There is no possible way you can explain segregation to children; they are incapable of understanding it.
As children, we learn that there is love and then there is cruelty. Later we learn that there is obedience and disobedience. Then, since we are children, we are taught the rules of our culture; some of these rules are never accepted into our hearts.
Michael was born in Atlanta in 1929, named after his father, Michael Sr. His father and mother were both ordained Reverends and respected leaders in their community. They shared a home with his maternal grandparents, the Reverend and Mrs. A.D. Williams. The men were staunch believers in the power of Jesus Christ and the Bible and led Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was right down the street from their home.
When he was only two years old, Michael Jr. went with his family to Europe. Michael Senior was so profoundly affected by the person of Martin Luther, the great reformer, that upon his return to the States changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr. and his son’s to Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a black child, Martin Jr. was introduced to the world his own black parents had to live in – a world that was racially segregated. It really didn’t matter that his parents were educated, the south had certain rules about mixing the races. One day, etched clearly in his memory was a family trip to buy new shoes. Little Martin was excited at the prospect, only to enter the store and be immediately ushered to the back exit.
“No coloreds.” The store owner said to them, angrily.
At the time, unbeknownst to Martin, blacks were not allowed in restaurants, at the beach or swimming pools. They couldn’t drink from the same water fountains as white people and couldn’t use the same toilets.
It was this experience that awakened him and eventually led Martin Luther King Jr. to his passionate crusade for equality.
He graduated high school at 15, skipping both 9th and 12th grades, and enrolled in Morehouse College, a prestigious private, all-male, black university in Atlanta. He graduated with a Bachelors degree in sociology at age 19.
After seminary, Martin married Coretta Scott, a woman whose wit and vigor was an incredible match for his. King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was twenty-five years old, then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. degree in 1955.
He began a campaign of civil disobedience, a strategic effort that involved all races in the Southern United States. He knew how to confront hatred with love and turned the hearts of many, calling for an end to segregation in the South.
He believed in non-violence – something he preached over and over in the face of brutal police tactics. He was arrested twenty nine times and wrote prolifically while jailed. Some of his best writings come from cells, just like the Apostle Paul’s. He says in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” the following: “…Just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”
In the historic March on Washington, his “I Have a Dream” speech is really like the preach of a Baptist Minister:
“In a sense we've come to our nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
Even with all of this, the civil disobedience, the jailing, the nonviolent protests, King's story of the miraculous strategist is rarely told.
King, like all successful strategists made quick, precise moves to become highly educated so that he would be respected by the world, not just his neighborhood. It was his plan – largely influenced by his Grandfather and Father. He followed the examples of men like Bayard Rustin and Ghandi, even though he considered himself a devout Christian.
King was assassinated when he was 39, after two other attempts on his life. At the hospital, one of the attending doctors noted that he had the "heart of a 60-year-old."
Today we celebrate his birthday. He has been dead for nearly as long as I have been alive and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know his name.
Happy Birthday, Martin.
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