Martin Luther King, Jr.: His Legacy and Impact in Latin America
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of many talents: a smart student, a brilliant speaker, and a peaceful leader to name but a few accomplishments in his life. Due to his brilliance and with respect to his legacy, former President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983 declaring the third Monday of every calendar year to be Martin Luther King Day. Unfortunately, the process of establishing this holiday took a long time and saw its fair share of controversy. The US, as a whole nation, finally acknowledged and celebrated the holiday unanimously for the first time in the year 2000. What led up to the creation of this holiday? What impact did he have on his own nation, and internationally?
A Short Biography
MLK was born as Michael King on January 15, 1929. When he was young his father changed both his and his son’s name to honor the famous friar Martin Luther. In his early years, he proved to be a smart kid, skipping two years of school and entering University at the young age of fifteen. This didn’t come without woes, however, since he suffered from depression and resentment toward the racism that was so prevalent at the time. What’s more, he felt highly distressed from a painful family tragedy—his grandmother’s death— and it led him to attempt suicide by jumping from a second-story window. Thankfully, he survived the fall.
Ministry and Manifesting
He finished college at the age of nineteen and continued his studies to become a minister. Can you imagine being out of college by the age of nineteen?! When I was that age I didn’t even know what to have for breakfast, let alone what my career was going to be.
After two famous bus-related incidents you might know about (The arrests of Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks) in 1955, Martin Luther King Jr. started the Montgomery bus boycott, a boycott that lasted over a year’s time. During this time, King was not only arrested but also his house was bombed by a white supremacist. In later interviews of his career, he was asked to comment on accusations of inciting violence in his demonstrations, to which he responded that he never incited such violence, but was the victim of it. One of his greatest inspirations was Mahatma Gandhi and his peaceful protests for the independence of India.
After the successful boycott, MLK, along with other prominent civil rights activists, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLP). This was a group that sought to organize non-violent protests in favor of the civil rights reform. He would then lead this group until his death.
The Famous Speech
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most influential speeches of US history, still quoted and relevant to this day. If you haven’t heard the entire speech, I highly recommend that you do. He delivered his message beautifully; both its power and intensity were essential to ending segregation.
“The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.”
Here, MLK talks about how inciting violence can ultimately divide people. This particular quote is important to me because I come from a country that ended it’s civil war 23 years ago, when I was a toddler. The fight against racism is difficult, and turning to violence will only set us back. Segregation in itself is a form of violence, twisting people’s perceptions of self-worth.
An Untimely Death
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech that, in retrospect, is eerily related to the event of his death. He was addressing bomb threats he had been receiving, and so made this speech on April 3rd, the day before his assassination.
“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
A Sad Omen
After listening to his speeches and interviews, I must say I’m sad that he had to leave us earlier than expected. To me, this speech almost sounds like a farewell, as if he wished to set the minds of the people that believed in him at peace before his death.
His departure was not met without unrest. President Kennedy gave two speeches that urged the people to honor his legacy by not turning to violence as a reaction to the tragic event.
How MLK Affects Latin Americans
If he was alive today, I’m sure King would stand by Latin American citizens as well. Economic inequality within black and Latino communities is still a big problem in and out of the United States, and the fight for equal rights seems to be far from over.
Where Racism Persists
As a Guatemalan, I’ve known about him and his famous speeches since I was a kid, and while I didn’t experience segregation first hand, racism exists in my country. Regrettably, people and families who have European descent are sometimes racist towards people of Mayan descent. The most ridiculous thing about this is that a vast majority of Guatemalans have Mayan blood. Ultimately, we’re all an amalgam of DNA from different places, but the truth is, DNA is not a way to measure our worth.
King said it best:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Social Justice Wins
MLK’s influence in Latin America may not be as big as it is in the US, but it was influential enough to have a statue of him erected in Mexico City! We can learn from his example and not only tolerate, but embrace our differences as characteristics that can make us grow together rather than apart.
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