January 21, 2019, Published in TheKingCenter.org
During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history.
Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King led a nonviolent movement in the late 1950’s and ‘60s to achieve legal equality for African-Americans in the United States. While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly-impossible goals.
Watch the Historic “I Have a Dream” Speech
He went on to lead similar campaigns against poverty and international conflict, always maintaining fidelity to his principles that men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, are equal members of the human family.
Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Nobel Peace Prize lecture and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” are among the most revered orations and writings in the English language. His accomplishments are now taught to American children of all races, and his teachings are studied by scholars and students worldwide. He is the only non-president to have a national holiday dedicated in his honor, and is the only non-president memorialized on the Great Mall in the nation’s capitol. He is memorialized in hundreds of statues, parks, streets, squares, churches and other public facilities around the world as a leader whose teachings are increasingly-relevant to the progress of humankind.
Watch Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
Rotary’s Shared Commitment to Human Rights
Published in Rotary International
Rotarian peacebuilders have long championed many of the human rights values fostered by the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and helped celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights during this Rotary year. In June 2017, Bernice King, gave a rousing speech about the hard work of fostering peace at the Rotary Presidential Peace Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia. She challenged her audience – both those in the auditorium and Rotarians worldwide – to think anew about how they define peace and how they interact with the people they disagree with. “Every member of our world society, even our adversaries and opponents, is worthy of being looked upon with dignity,” she said.
Addressing the current political moment in the United States, King noted how troubling it is that people are increasingly divided, with Republicans refusing to engage with Democrats and Democrats refusing to engage with Republicans. She called on people everywhere to reach across political divides.
King spoke from deep experience. The youngest daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – assassinated 50 years ago this month – she has embraced the family’s legacy of social activism. Today she is the CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. Founded in 1968 by her mother, Coretta Scott King, the King Center carries on the work of Bernice’s father by searching for solutions to poverty, racism, and violence.
King’s career as a public speaker began in 1980 when she was 17 and, standing in for her mother, gave a speech on apartheid at the United Nations. After college, she earned graduate degrees in divinity and law, a combination that has shaped her vocation and her oratory, which evokes her father in both its style and its ambitions.
As a law clerk in the juvenile court system of Georgia’s Fulton County, King saw the way many teens, already disadvantaged by society, faced a legal system based on retribution rather than rehabilitation. Since then, she has dedicated herself to inspiring young people and teaching them about Nonviolence 365, the King Center initiative that encourages people to emulate her father’s principles every day of the year.
Watch Bernice King’s Address to the June 2017 RI Presidential Peacebuilding Conference