by Jake Henderson
Martin Luther King Jr. was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century and quite a remarkable man as well. He skipped two grades in high school and started college when he was 15—graduating with a degree in sociology at the age of 19.
After that, his life was a whirlwind, to say the least. I assume by this point, almost anyone reading this should know the basic facts… but just in case you don’t—here’s a quick refresher. He was propelled into the spotlight of the Civil Rights Movement when a woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. King and several others spearheaded the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a 381 day effort which successfully ended the segregation of the city’s busing system.
In 1957, King helped to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This was a group of African American ministers who were committed to achieving civil rights goals through the use of non-violent protests.
King’s emphasis on the use of peaceful protests is key to understanding his accomplishments. Repeatedly, he and his supporters faced moments when it would have been all too tempting to strike back at those who beat them, spit on them, kicked them, and yes, even murdered them. Yet, they remained true to their pacifist beliefs. I can honestly say that, given the same circumstances, I would have probably not had the same incredible discipline.
Amongst the highlights of his all-too-brief career includes the aforementioned victory in Montgomery, as well as the famous “March on Washington” in 1963, where he delivered his now legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
The March on Washington prompted enough interest in the Civil Rights Movement that it helped get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed.
I could sit here all day and recite the rest of his accomplishments, whether it’s the March from Selma to Montgomery, or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If I wanted, I could tell you about his Letter from Birmingham Jail (well worth reading, if you have the time). Or, I could tell you about his tragic death, or the monster named James Earl Ray who assassinated him.
But really, more than anything, what I would like to do today, is have you think—just for a moment—about the life that never was. Martin Luther King Jr. died at the age of 39. What would he have accomplished had he continued to live? What would he have helped the world accomplish, if it was not for that fateful day in Tennessee in 1968.
Let’s consider for the moment, the year 1988. That year was a Presidential election, featuring a fairly weak crop of candidates. George Bush was the obvious choice for the Republican nominee, but the Democrat field was fairly wide-open. Of course, the eventual nominee was Michael Dukakis. It’s relatively easy to imagine that a 59-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. could have won the Democrat nomination that year.
It staggers the imagination to think, even in the year 2013, he could still be living. How many speeches did we miss? How many profound thoughts were taken from us?