Hero of the 20th century: Martin Luther King, seven keys to the Nobel Peace Prize who was shot dead

Religious leader, “apostle of non-violence”, brilliant speaker and activist against racial segregation (not to mention the existence of the Ku Klux Klan, until not long ago in the United States black people were discriminated against on buses, restaurants, parks and theaters), he was a hero of the 20th century and today he is considered a precursor of the movement Black Lives Matter. In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) received the Nobel Peace Prize for “always upholding the principle of non-violence” in his struggle to eliminate racial prejudice. That same year the civil rights law had been approved, which prohibited segregation and racial discrimination in his native country. I accept this award with an abiding faith in America and a bold faith in the future of humanity.” King said in his Nobel acceptance speech.

Martin Luther King Jr. at the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”, where he gave the famous speech: “I have a dream”File, Archive

Minister of the Baptist Church and at the same time a committed social activist, especially from the “act of disobedience” of Rosa Parks (who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery), King Jr. was instrumental in the success of the social rights movement in the United States through a strategy of nonviolent resistance. After the Nobel, he received criticism from other activists and groups (Malcolm X. and the Black Panthers, for example) who preferred other methods to combat racism. According to King Jr., some leaders sacrificed truth on the altar of power.

Martin Luther King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, one day before he was assassinated
Martin Luther King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, one day before he was assassinated File, Archive

Despite his peaceful ministry, on Thursday, April 4, 1968, hours after a speech to striking workers, King Jr. was shot to death while standing on a second-story balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. In March 1969, the defendant, James Earl Ray (a white male), pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison; years later, he recanted and claimed that he had been involved in a conspiracy. Although investigations by the US government determined that Ray was the only culprit, King’s partner, Coretta Scott, like a large sector of society, questioned it. After King Jr.’s death, President Lyndon Johnson decreed a national day of mourning (the first for an African-American); More than 300,000 people attended the funeral, and singer Mahalia Jackson performed King Jr.’s favorite religious hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

King Jr., his wife, Coretta Scott, and their children
King Jr., his wife, Coretta Scott, and their childrenFile, Archive

Recently published in the country, Martin Luther King Jr. Radical texts and speeches (Tinta Limón) brings readers closer to a compilation of texts made by the American philosopher, theologian, and militant Cornel West (who at the age of ten witnessed an act by King Jr. with his parents), with a translation by Amadeo Gandolfo. Famous for her 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in which he shared his hope for a reconciled and united humanity, King Jr. developed a theory of “radical love” – ​​”a moral and practical method, a form of way and struggle in which oppressed people could fight for their freedom without inflict violence on the oppressor or humiliate the opponent”, defines West- based on the philosophy of non-violence promoted by his admired Mahatma Gandhi.

cover of "Martin Luther King Jr. Radical texts and speeches"with an introduction and selection by the philosopher Cornel West
Cover of “Martin Luther King Jr. Radical Texts and Speeches”, with introduction and selection by philosopher Cornel West

As the compiler maintains, King Jr.’s words resonate in the present. “He was not a [Edward] American Gibbon chronicling the decline and fall of the American Empire, but a courageous and visionary man of Christian blues, who he fought with style and love in the face of the four catastrophes that he identified, and that still lie in wait for us today”, writes the philosopher. Those catastrophes were (and still are) the racism, poverty, militarism and materialism. In his last years, King Jr. lamented the “spiritual blackout” that existed in the West, especially among the powerful and the ruling class. “Along the path of life, someone must have enough sense and morality to cut the chain of hate,” he said.

For the Christian leader, racism, poverty, militarism and materialism represented the four catastrophes of humanity
For the Christian leader, racism, poverty, militarism and materialism represented the four catastrophes of humanityFile, Archive

With speeches, sermons, fragments of his memoirs (Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story) and other writings by the religious leader, West organizes the book into four sections addressing King Jr.’s theory of radical love, his “prophetic visions” of world crisis, the revolution of nonviolent resistance against white supremacy and proposals to “overcome tyranny and hatred” (where he compares him to the “prophetic Pope Francis”). References to the Gospels and the Bible appear in King Jr.’s texts. Odysseyto philosophers like Karl Marx, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Friedrich Nietzsche, and writers like Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore and Langston Hughes.

The texts collected in Martin Luther King Jr. Radical texts and speeches they go from 1958 to the sermon he gave in a Memphis church hours before he was assassinated in 1968. A recording was played during King Jr.’s funeral in which he talked about how he wanted to be remembered after his death: “I I wish someone would mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his life in service to others.” Here are some excerpts from the book.

He was probably the first person in history to put Jesus’ ethic of love above mere interaction between individuals and turn it into a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. For Gandhi, love was a powerful instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. The moral and intellectual satisfaction that he did not derive from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, from the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, from Hobbes’s social contract theory, from Rousseau’s “back to nature” optimism, or from Nietzsche’s philosophy of the superman, I found it in the philosophy of Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically viable method that the oppressed had in their struggle for freedom.

True compassion is more than giving a beggar a coin; it is not random or superficial. It has to do with realizing that a structure that produces beggars needs to be restructured. A true revolution of values ​​will soon make us see with discomfort the flagrant contrast between poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation he will make us see, across the seas, the individualistic capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the huge profits without worrying about the social progress of the countries, and we will say: “This is not fair”.

never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did was “illegal”. It was “illegal” to help and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. In any case, I am sure that if he had lived in Germany at that time, he would have helped and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a communist country where certain principles close to the Christian faith have been suppressed, I would openly support disobeying the anti-religious laws of that country.

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what happened or putting a false label on an act of evil. It means, rather, that this act of evil no longer remains a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst that creates the necessary atmosphere to start from scratch, for a new beginning. It means that a weight is lifted from us or a debt is cancelled. The words “I will forgive you, but I will never forget what you did” never explain the true nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if it means erasing the act entirely from one’s mind. But when we forgive, we forget, in the sense that the evil act is no longer a mental block that prevents a new relationship. Similarly, we can never say “I will forgive you, but I will have nothing more to do with you”. Forgiveness means reconciliation, a new union.

It should not be confused with a sentimental outpouring. Love is something much deeper than emotional bullshit. Perhaps the Greek language can clear up our confusion on this point. In the Greek New Testament, three words are used for love. The word Eros defines a kind of aesthetic or romantic love. In the Platonic dialogues, Eros it is a yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. the second word is Philia, a reciprocal love, an intimate affection and a true friendship between friends. We love those we like, and we love because we are loved. The third word is agape: a redemptive, understanding and creative good will for all men. An overflowing love that does not seek anything in return, agape it is the love of God operating in the human heart. At this level, we love men not because we like them, or because their manners appeal to us, or even because they possess some kind of divine spark; we love every man because God loves him. At this level, we love the person who commits a bad deed, even though we hate the deed he commits.

The question has often been raised about my own intellectual pilgrimage toward nonviolence. To get to this question it is necessary to go back to my early teens in Atlanta. He had grown up abhorring not only segregation, but also the oppressive and barbaric acts that emanated from it. He had passed places where Negroes had been savagely lynched and had seen the Ku Klux Klan. I had seen police brutality with my own eyes and had seen black people receive the most tragic injustice in court. All of these things had impacted my developing personality. He was dangerously close to resentful of white people. I also learned that the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.

All life is interrelated in a real way. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; improving the poor enriches the rich. We are, inevitably, our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Anything that affects one directly affects all indirectly.

We can transform the dark yesterday of injustice into a bright tomorrow of justice and humanity. Let us keep moving towards the goal of self-sufficiency, towards the realization of the dream of Brotherhood and towards the realization of the dream of the good will of the understanding. Let no one stop us.

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Hero of the 20th century: Martin Luther King, seven keys to the Nobel Peace Prize who was shot dead