Dr. King was an African American who was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He was very religious, in part, because his father, great grandfather, his brother and uncle were all preachers. Mr. King states that he had no other choice but to be religious, (Carson 1). He was brought up in a congenial household and this was one of the factors that determined his religious attitudes. Dr. King was very well educated and received his doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University on the 5th of June 1955, (Carson 30). He also received honorary degrees from universities such as Howard, Lincoln, Yale and many others, (King center).
Dr. King, as great as he was, did not arrive at his non violence policy by himself; he was influenced by a number of persons. The first persons who influenced him were his parents and in particular his father. Dr. King was brought up in a home that was congenial, (Carson 2). Dr. King says “these factors were highly significant in determining my religious attitudes,” (Carson 2). From an early age he was made aware of segregation and discrimination by his mother, she taught him and his siblings that “he should feel a sense of “sombodiness” and that he would have to go out and face a system that would stare him in the face everyday, (Carson 3). As we can see from history, that’s exactly what Dr. King did, he faced the system and made a huge effort to change it and was successful. By this, Dr. King influenced the movement with his policy of non violence. He also taught them to rise above their persecutors and trust that god will deliver them. He was a source of strength for the movement and a huge asset. (My knowledge)
His father shared his childhood experiences with him and was very interested in civil rights. He was president of the NAACP in Atlanta and stood out in social reform, (Carson 5). His father’s activities and beliefs also helped to mold Dr. King’s mentality. I say this because it was in the church, that his father showed Dr. King that he could be a great influence in the community. His father was a very spiritual person and had a dynamic personality. His father taught Dr. King that he was deeply committed to moral and ethical principles, (Carson 4-5). This I believe connected to non violence because of the way he was brought up and the example his father set for him to follow. Dr. King used what he was taught and it was reflected in the way he lived his life.
The role of the church was also significant in Dr. King’s life; it influenced his life with its teachings. The bible preaches love among brothers and sisters and for those who may persecute you. Things such as these biblical teachings influenced his ideas. He joined the church at the age of five years. This was a very important structure in his life and was a stepping stone for him to build on his confidence and beliefs to become a part of the movement. The church also influenced his actions, with its religious teachings and became apart of his ideology. I say this because it was reflected in the way he carried himself and his very peaceful nature. It was on the churches platform Dr. King gave some of his most memorable speeches and testimonies. The church was a pillar that he also used to reach and to motivate the black community. This was very important in the larger movement because this was a way as I said to spread the word about the movement and to get others involved. This also motivated others to become active and to heed his many messages about non violence and everyone living together including blacks and whites equally.
Dr. King has always said according to his autobiography (Carson 6). that the church was always a second home for him and the lessons he learned were in the fundamentalist line. Dr. King in his earlier years has had resentment towards the system of segregation and has always seen it as a grave injustice, (Carson 7). This was seen in the book The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. as Carson quotes an experience from Dr. King’s childhood:
We sat down in the first empty seats at the front of the store. A young white clerk came up and murmured politely: “I’ll be happy to wait on you if you’ll just move to those seats in the rear.” Dad immediately retorted, “There’s nothing wrong with these seats. We’re quite comfortable here.” “Sorry,” said the clerk, “but you’ll have to move.” (8)
In this quote it demonstrates that in his life Dr. King knew from an early age what it was like to be discriminated against. The example shows the issue of racism and inequality in society. It was wrong for the clerk to ask them to move to seats in the back because of the color of their skins. Didn’t black persons spend the same money that the whites did? Dr. King in this experience saw that although his father was a well known respectable parson, the color of his skin prevented him from being treated equally as whites. The clerk was not responding to anything she just didn’t want two black persons seated in the front seats in the store. This was how it was at the time. Dr. King at this time was a young boy but was aware of how society worked because his mother had educated him as to how things were. He knew that it was because he was black was the only reason for them being asked to switch seats. He also heard his father say “I don’t care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it,” (Carson 8). This may have also inspired Dr. King to try and break the social barriers to fight for equality and rights of African Americans. This experience and others including when a police officer once stopped his father when he accidentally drove past a stop sign and addressed him as “boy”. This offended Dr. Kings father as it would have offended any grown man. Although this was the norm many blacks saw this as being inferior to a white person. Can you imagine being a grown man, and being spoken to as if you were a child, in the presence of your own child? This I believe would have angered many people and cause them to loose their temper but King Sr. handled the situation with calm and grace. Dr. King seeing this must have been greatly impacted and affected by his father’s resolve to the situation. Another way that Dr. King was influenced was by educating himself and being educated by others. Schools played a huge part in his development.
He learned that “nonviolence is not passive resistance but is rather an active force” and that it must be practiced in absolute love and without hate,” (Before King). This I believe was the most important key that appealed to Dr. King so much that he adopted this ideology. When one listens to Dr. King they realize through his sermons and teachings that they are based on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.
I have seen too much hatred to want hate myself, myself and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white Citizens and Councilors, and too many Klansmen of the south want to hate, myself and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear, (Wisdom, King 165).
His philosophy was strengthened with that of Gandhi’s. Dr. King says himself that it was Gandhi who was the potent instrument for social change and collective transformation and that Gandhi’s emphasis on love and nonviolence was the method of social reform he was seeking,” (King Center). Dr. King chose nonviolence, following in the steps of Christ and Gandhi before him. “Is that it seeks to break the chain reaction of violence, (Wisdom 165). It was the satisfaction he had had failed to fully find and gain from other philosophers he found in the great and humble Mahatma Gandhi.
I must warn you against the impression that mine is the final word on nonviolence. All I claim is that every experiment of mine has deepened my faith in non violence as the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. I can combine the greatest love with the greatest opposition to wrong, (Gandhi Today).
It was the satisfaction he had failed to fully find and gain from other philosophers he found in the great and humble Mahatma Gandhi. I say this because although he studied other philosophers, he did not agree totally with what their ideologies were but there was something about Gandhi’s ideology that Dr. King agreed with. And must have struck home with him with the teachings of his father and what he learned in the church.
Dr. King, as Carson quoted was “particularly move by Gandhi’s Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts,” (Carson 23). This march was an epic journey that ended the symbolic gesture which inspired a nation to stand up and defy Britain’s colonial ruler ship of India. (Epic Journey) This journey as we see can be compared to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the method that was used to get attention, protest peacefully, and then seek change from the oppressor. This was a plus for the movement because they were “seen as the bigger person” I say this because Dr. King teaching and following Gandhi’s teachings in turn taught the black community not to fight back physically, despite how badly they were treated.
“Gandhi felt that peacefully breaking the laws on making salt would draw world attention to social oppression and the “heartless exploitation of India by colonial rule.” If one studies the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one would see that it compares and is similar to the Salt March to the Sea. In the Bus Boycott, African Americans were trying to gain equality and the right to sit anywhere on a bus that they pleased, while the Salt March was about protesting British salt tax, (Epic Journey). These were both similar because they were demonstrating peacefully against their oppressors. This strategy was effective, useful and important because a with a large group of persons boycotting the bus and salt the product or the company will suffer tremendously especially in the case of the Montgomery Bus Boycott where a lot of the bus riders were black.
When Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up on the bus after a long day at work and was then arrested, we see this as the beginning of a huge movement, a significant act of rebellion against racism and segregation. “Dr. King played a crucial role in the boycott and transformed a local bus boycott into a social justice movement of international significance.” (To Walk) Although he did not initiate the movement, he played a key role with its success. Dr. King was inevitably asked Mrs. Parks to “participate in the local branch of the NAACP” soon after he begun preaching at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.
Blacks had to use separate facilities that were not as nice as those the whites used. There were separate bathrooms, stores, water fountains, blacks had to sit at the back of the bus and when seats were few, they would have to give their seats up to white persons or face arrest charges. This demonstration, with the help and motivation of King, was successful and broke barriers. As this quote states “The ensuing struggle eventually led to the United States Supreme Court decision on November 13th 1956. It declared illegal the Alabama and Montgomery laws that required segregated buses.” (Montgomery-bus-boycott) This boycott was successful because the African American community joined together to help change their lives and gain equality rights. Instead of riding buses, they organized systems of carpools. Dr. King was arrested and this move brought a huge wave of protest. This was one of the civil rights movement’s first victories and gave African Americans hope that things were changing slowly and they just had to be patient.
http://web14.epnet.com.rpa.laguardia.edu Carson, Clayborne, ed. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Warner Books, 2002.
“Gandhi’s epic journey shook foundations of an empire” Capital Press of Australia. 25/7/05 http://web.lexis-nexis.com
Levine, Michael L. Social Issues in American History Series, African Americans and Civil Rights From 1619 to the Present. Arizona: Oryx Press, 1996.
“Montgomery Bus Boycott” http://montgomery-bus-boycott.foosquare.com
“The King Center” http://www.thekingcenter.org
“To walk in Dignity: The Montgomery Bus Boycott” http://web14.epnet.com.rpa.laguardia.eduOAH Magazine of History. January 2005
Shepard, Mark. Gandhi Today The story of Mahatma Gandhi’s Successors. Maryland: Seven Locks Press, 1987.
Photos http://www.suffolk.lib.ny.us/libraries/nbab/m... North Babylon Public Library, Martin Luther King Jr.
http://www.fiftiesweb.com/pop/parks-oldjpg http://www.freeindia.org/freedomfighters/image Mahatma Gandhi