Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Updated: Aug 14
Today we commemorate Dr Martin Luther King Jr. on his annual birthday holiday. There is so much that has been and will be said about this man of God and icon of activism. His legacy, as is often the case, sprinkled with truths, misconceptions and probably outright lies. Through the years since his death I have heard many good and not so good things about Dr. King but I still consider him a godly man and social activist called by God to do most of what he did. He wasn't perfect, he was just a man but he was a Kingdom man, no pun intended. The world mostly overlooks his spiritual strength. They speak of him being a pastor but that's the extent of it. King would be the first to tell us he was not acting on human will alone, and maybe at one point, not at all. Here is a biographical sketch of Dr. King I wrote to include in my soon coming devotional with biographies of notable Christian men and women.
Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
Exodus 3:10 (KJ21)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s, page in the annals of twentieth century history is the portrait of a visionary man of God. He emerged from the fabric of United States injustice, knitting himself into the design of nationwide awareness and change. Dr. King was a unique champion of the people; a leader and messenger to his country and the world. Historical accounts laud his leadership during the civil rights movement. They acknowledge his distinction in the Christian Faith community as pastor extraordinaire. Much is made of his intelligent, eloquent and stirring orations that continue to inspire people today. He showed himself a strong individual with determination and sense of purpose. Dr. King was a man willing to lead by example, suffering many battles; spiritual, social, political and personal, during a life that was ended far too soon. He stirred the nation championing the cause of brotherly love and equality. In hind sight of his life and legacy it is safe to say that what he did was a divine move of the God Who sent him for just that purpose.
Martin’s hardest battle was not against political indifference regarding racism or the country’s systemic social injustice. His most daunting challenge was not the people pulling at him, clamoring for him to lead. The most distressing battle, as with most people of faith, was fighting the adversary of his soul, the enemy of God and man alike. Undoubtedly, Martin’s greatest struggle was with his own human nature that would be repeatedly crucified to follow his spiritual mandates.
And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. Galatians 5:24 (KJ21)
Dr. King’s faith and willingness to serve a Kingdom purpose was stronger than his love of this temporal life. If not for his solid faith in Christ Jesus and guidance from the Holy Spirit, King’s leadership and public persona would have been very different. His faith empowered purpose and human endurance attest to the tremendous influence one person can have when sent and anointed by the God Of All Creation.
Michael Luther King Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta Georgia to Michael Luther and Alberta King. When Michael Jr was about five years old, his father, who was a powerful preacher in his own right, went to Germany, came home and changed their names to Martin in honor of Martin Luther, the eminent German priest and protestant advocate.
Martin’s family came from very humble paternal roots but his maternal relatives were upwardly mobile middle class people. He grew up in his maternal grandparents’ Atlanta home in a prosperous neighborhood that was referred to as black wall street. His family lived with some degree of privilege in that African American community but was still restricted by the south’s generations-old Jim Crow culture. The two senior King men, Martin’s grandfather and father, were vehemently opposed to the racial inequities and at home often vented their resentment. Therefore, Martin grew up fully aware of the limitations of being black in Atlanta, across the entire south and all over the United States.
Martin’s education was exceptional like most things about him. His academic excellence had him skipping grades more than once. He entered Georgia’s Morehouse College at the tender age of fifteen, earning his degree and going on to Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. After graduating from Crozier as Valedictorian, he attended Boston University where he earned his Doctorate in Philosophy. It was in Boston where he met Coretta Scott, a promising student at the New England Conservatory of Music. They were married in 1953. Success was on the fast track for Martin as he was an ordained minister by twenty, became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama, and had earned his doctorate by twenty-five.
In 1960 Martin Luther King Jr. took the senior pastorate position at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a gifted preacher with paradoxical displays of explosive passion suffused with subtle intellectual persuasion, wrapped in his love for the things of God. His conviction to stand for social change stemmed from knowing what was not biblical and a dream for the US to achieve its ideals. His organizational involvement in social and eventually political reform was a gradual but steady progression starting in the 1950s. Martin had all the attributes needed to unify people in peaceful protests and lead this nation toward a more just temperament and governance. Having lived with accepted racial discrimination, he was hyper cognizant of what the Jim Crow culture had and was done to the African American mentality and community. Martin understood it was no longer tolerable and was encouraged by others to step out front in the crusade for change. Secular history mostly praises his being architect of United States’ peaceful civil rights movement and highlight his social and political beliefs but Martin Luther King Jr was a man of God, first and social activist second. Listening to his speeches it becomes clear that it was a ministry to him, very much akin to evangelizing.
Martin’s vision of racial equality was not just for African Americans but all Americans and it expanded to all people worldwide. His dream was for his beloved nation to be characterized by brotherhood and respect regardless to skin color or economic status. King hoped for an America teeming with love and human compassion, a society that helped the genuine needy and empowered the poor to uplift their lives, leveling the playground of opportunity for everyone. He dreamed of a unified United States of America. All his aspirations and actions were anchored in his faith. Mahatma Gandhi is readily sited as King’s peaceful resistance influence. Seldom if ever is his faith in Christ Jesus portrayed as the bedrock of everything he believed and did. Although it is evident he admired and took a page out of Gandhi’s playbook, the fact remains, MLK knew about the Prince of Peace long before he ever heard about Gandhi. The peaceful spirit in Martin was the Holy Spirit from above not just a learned strategy from the history of India. His willingness to go stand out front pushing against the strength of a nationally condoned racist culture was inspired by nothing less than divinely ordained service.
Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then said I, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah 6:8 (KJ21)
MLK awakened a nation by leading nonviolent protest marches which got him set upon by dogs, water hosed, beat with batons and thrown into jail along with many other protesters. He preached peace and unity for the country, godly love and respect for its people. No matter what type of activity he was involved, any platform and any location was his pulpit. His marches were disapproved of by some black leaders as being too passive and ineffective but their criticisms proved wrong. Martin conducted numerous activities but the most talked about of his actions was organizing the volatile Selma to Montgomery, Alabama protest and spearheading the auspicious march on Washington, each challenging the nation to move away from hypocrisy and truly uphold its constitution. He won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize with the distinction of then being the youngest Nobel Laureate at the age of thirty-five. The cause of civil rights put the preacher in the spotlight across the nation, on Capitol Hill and around the world, stretching his persona beyond being a minister of the Gospel. The world put the entire disposition of the civil rights movement on this one man’s shoulders. It was a heavyweight load to carry. As much as the secular world minimizes his Christian impetus, Martin’s roots always rose to the top, giving God glory. The Christ in King could not be squelched.
Decades after his death there remains myth and mystique surrounding the iconic activist. The reality is that Martin Luther King Jr. was human with flawed characteristics like anyone else. He was not nor did he claim to be a paragon of virtuous perfection. Like many notables of Scripture such a Moses, David, Abraham and Noah, Martin was an imperfect person chosen by a Perfect God. A Heavenly Father who knew the heart of the man which was the real quantifier for his assignment. Dr. King was a husband, father of four, son and brother. He had a private life that was overshadowed by the flurry of public events—a life cut short and ripped from the bosom of his family. MLK’s life has been erroneously framed only by his civil rights platform. His advocacy for change, urging the United States to become a color-blind society and encouraging people to proactively challenge the laws and culture of racism and poverty is only part of who he was. Martin looked at life through the lens of his Kingdom mentality, a Christ following perspective with a strong sense of the spiritual. His view of social justice was enveloped in an awareness of biblical mores and his God ordained calling. King’s faith fueled his dream which raised his willingness to sacrificially improve conditions for his race and all disenfranchised human beings.
In his address, Beyond Viet Nam, King demonstrated a need to take godliness regarding the war and the culture to higher ground. This action made him not only reviled by bigots but an opponent of national policy. Government officials who once supported his civil rights position became angry for what they perceived as treachery and unpatriotic propaganda. King was labeled, a communist, a race inciter, and worse. Even many African Americans were disappointed in their leader and openly turned against the once cherished minister. Hordes of young black boys were drafted and fighting in Viet Nam—and dying. Much of the African American community could not handle the implications of the speech. A speech that suggested their sons, husbands and brothers were dying and wounded for an inhumane agenda and political power play. That what our country was strategically doing was wrong and the methods used by the US in fighting the war were a sin against God and man alike. King implied deliberate genocidal selection when he boldly declared there was a disproportionate number of young black men being sent to Viet Nam to fight. He concluded that assertion saying those same black soldiers return home to the racist rejection and marginalization of being black in America (paraphrased). He talked about the mandates of conscious and the circumspect reading of history. He spoke of his own inner sensitivity to its guidance; undoubtedly a reference to the Holy Spirit. The outstanding orator acknowledged it was not easy to publicly oppose the policies of government particularly at war time even when pressed by the demands of inner truth. King inferred that what he was saying was part of his destiny and he emphatically declared he must speak. It was a statement of a man driven by something beyond himself. Many of his close friends, advisors and associates warned him not to give the controversial discourse; to stick solely to his national civil rights agenda but Martin was determined. It was the most uncomfortable and unpopular address of his public life, inflaming his adversaries and supporters alike. It was clear Dr. King was battling between his natural inclinations and spiritual obligation.
A.W. Tozer once said, “To be right with God often meant to be in trouble with men.” What a fitting aphorism for the circumstance in which King found himself. It was God’s servant leader and Kingdom messenger emerged that day at Riverside Church in New York City, who was compelled to speak what his Holy God directed regardless how ostracized it made him.
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Matthew 10:22
In the south, both black and white people, leaders and little-known citizens were being murdered for participating in civil rights activities. It was the Christ in King that stood with righteous indignation and lead his people against the violent bigotry. It was Holy Spirit strength girding him when he wanted to hide away and protect his family after death threats and the bombing of his home. Dr. King stated that the battle with his human fear was hard to fight but after lengthy and earnest prayer he would be fortified to carry on. It was a tremendous anointing that made his efforts resound so effectually throughout the nation and world. And there was the peace transcending all understanding, the peace Apostle Paul spoke of that made him move forward when he knew he could easily endanger his loved one and lose his life.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7(KJ21)
By various accounts, Martin very likely sensed his time in this world was short. He did not take the threats or bombing lightly. A mentally ill woman had once stabbed him. He understood he was poised and vulnerable for any hatemonger or mentally ill person’s attack. In his I’ve been to the Mountain Top speech, he alluded to his mortality being a weighty thought in his mind. Still, it is apparent, he measured his divine purpose as more important. King declared with unabashed resolve that his priority was to do the will of God. He spoke of the possibility of being like Moses and not getting to the Promised Land. As if prophetically ordained, that speech would be his last.
Sadly, during this period, assassinations were happening with shocking regularity in the US. The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee became the site of Dr. King’s demise on April 4, 1968. As he stood on the balcony of his room, he was shot dead to end the power of his influence—but did it?
As with anything God orchestrates, it has a widespread lasting effect. Dr. King’s messages reverberate with power throughout this nation and the world to this day. We celebrate his birthday each year since 1986, remembering the deeds and words of the illustrious man of God and social activist. His protest methods have been imitated though never duplicated in character or impact. Why? Because human campaigns will never have the effect of an effort that is breathed on and empowered by our Omnipotent God. It takes more than a human desire for social change to accomplish what Martin did. It takes total trust in God, obedience and supernatural power to triumph when the world and the gates of hell are unleashed against you. It took the faith, action and sacrifice of one mortal man sent by his Prayer Answering God.
Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ saith the Lord of hosts.
Zechariah 4:6 (KJ21)
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District in Atlanta, Georgia, is an expansive thirty-five acre multi-building and garden site.
To learn more visit: https://www.nps.gov/malu/index.htm/index.htm
The once infamously remembered Lorraine Motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum group located at 450 Mulberry Street in Memphis, TN 38103.
The museum’s website: http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. is part of National Mall and Memorial Parks. The memorial is located at the intersection of Independence Ave and West Basin Drive SW.
For more information go to: https://www.nps.gov/mlkm/index.htm
All over the United States and beyond there are schools, roadways and historic memorials of various kinds named in honor of and to carry on the legacy of the charismatic man sent by God, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.