Appreciating the Contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King

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Today, schoolchildren are out of class across the Brazos Valley, and many of them learned in school last week just why today is a holiday. Dr. Martin Luther King is being remembered across the country and here at home, for being a single voice willing to step out in front of crowds and declare that he had a dream about how our world “could be,” if only we would come together in unity on behalf of children, for their future’s sake.

From an educational standpoint, Dr. King was only 15 years old when he started college, at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Four generations of family graduated from Morehouse—his grandfather, father, MLK and his brother, and Dr. King’s two boys. A  recent USA Today story noted that he was an average student, but he was very involved on campus in team activities—debate, basketball, glee club, student council and the NAACP. He earned his first degree in sociology and then entered a Pennsylvania seminar,y where he was valedictorian and was voted student body president, while he earned another bachelor’s degree in divinity.

Dr. King was only 25 years old when he earned his doctorate in “systematic theology” from Boston University, which centered around “the conceptions of God in the thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Wieman.” At this point in his life, he’d never finished high school, but earned two bachelor’s degrees and a doctorate. Plus, he’d been assigned a church to pastor and he had a new bride.

These days children are often asked to write essays and give speeches, some in schoolwide competitions, on what Dr. King’s life stood for. Many children research his writings and speeches, understand more about civil rights and the benefit of peaceful discussions of differing opinions. I’ve been thinking about what Dr. King’s example of scholarship and leadership means for our generation.

One of the first quotes by Dr. King that comes to mind is “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” In my family’s business, we concern ourselves with preserving your history, telling the story of your life. Everything that is important to you in your lifetime is worth preserving. Whether you use photographs, camera videos or even the 8mm or 35mm films and Kodachrome slides of decades ago, every image you captured means something.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but it’s more than worth 1,000,000 to actually have your own words. Imagine someone three generations from now, holding a letter that you’ve written in 2019 and what it will mean to them to hold a piece of paper or card where you preserved history for your future generations to know you a little better.

Although the life of Dr. King was exceedingly brief, born January 15, 1929 and his assassination occurred April 4, 1968, there are children across every state in this country today who are holding photocopies of the writings of his life. Not only do these writings describe what our country was experiencing at the time he wrote them, they also reflect his perspective, his own views of things as he saw them.

The essays that schoolchildren write present-day that describe what civil rights were before and after Dr. King’s life reflect his impact, as just one man, on making things better, improving conditions, and standing up, with peace, for justice.

Many people have reasons to protest wrongs in their lifetime. Some answer the call. Others turn their heads away and wait for someone else to speak up. Even in college classes filled with bright students, there always seems to be a reluctance to ask the professor a question because no one wants to look like they don’t know something. Occasionally you will find one brave student who will ask the first question, and a sign of relief goes up as the others follow and ask questions of their own.

Challenging authority, or even questioning “the way we’ve always done things” is not an easy process. It takes courage to point out a wrong to a majority of people who fail to see that what’s accepted as right is, in fact, wrong.

Dr. King fought for equality for all people. He did so as a lifetime effort, at least during his adult years. At Stanford University, you’ll find The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. This institute was founded by Dr. King’s widow, Mrs. Coretta Scott King.

Through the Institute, “The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr” was published. It’s made up of 14 volumes and according to the institute, is a “comprehensive collection of King’s most significant correspondence, sermons, speeches, published writings, and unpublished manuscripts.” You can research what’s in these volumes online for more information.

One of the things that came to mind immediately while researching the writings by Dr. King was how lucky we are to have a Presidential library in town. There’s an amazing amount of work done by professional librarians who have curated and organized every nuance and aspect of President George H.W. Bush ‘41’s life. So it is that an historian curates Dr. King’s collective works.

In our own life, typically it falls to the senior-most members of our families to act as our family’s historian. They are the ones who know the names of the people in the photographs taken 30+ years ago. They know their life stories, where they grew up, what life was like around them at the time, what else was going on in their city and in our country then.

One of Dr. King’s most popular sermons, one he delivered around the country at numerous churches is titled, “A Knock at Midnight.” In seven short pages, Dr. King managed to bring up the names of William Shakespeare, Thomas Carlyle, William Cullen Bryant, James Russell Lowell, and Arthur Schopenhauer among others. Central to the theme of this speech was “man against himself,” “the neurotic personality of our times,” “peace of mind,” “peace of soul,” and “modern man in search of a soul.”

I’m not a scholar or an archivist, just someone who loves history and a student of lives as people relate them to me. Of all the things I think about when I think of Dr. King this day, I’m filled with gratitude that he documented life as he saw it then, that others recorded and transcribed his words for others to have for years to come. Change is made, one step at a time. Today in 2019 we continue to fight to preserve that which is good and change that which is not.

May we take a moment today to forget the fact that it’s a day off from work, a holiday away from some schools, and a time when various banks and municipal offices are not open for our patronage. Instead, we have a day to spend a little time to, as James Taylor’s song sings, “Shed a Little Light on Love” in behalf of Dr. King.

 

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