On this day in 1929 the man who would become Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born. Not forty years later, 1969, he was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee after having one of the most successful careers as a civil rights activists that can be mentioned. The shooting that led to MLK’s death was not without foreshadowing. An attempt was made on Dr. King’s life on September 20, 1958 as well, over ten years before. This accompanied many death threats to his life, church, and family but did not dissuade him from participating in the civil rights movement. It seems that Dr. King felt the threat of loosing his own life was worth the risk to make the strides he was seeking in social justice. We often here that the greatest sacrifice is to give one’s life for a worthy cause, but today, as we look at an nation that still lives with the plague of racial division, was that Dr. King’s greatest contribution?
This is not to say that his life was lost in vain, we certainly must be willing to push through the risk of death to achieve our highest levels of achievement. But is there not merit to living to fight another day as well and choosing to live so that we can continue to fight? As we look through the recent news of religiously motivated shootings in Paris, tension in the middle east, and racial separation in the United States we quickly see that there is a void for moral leadership in the world be it secular or otherwise.
Peering into history we see that several examples of martyrs sacrificing themselves in various ways for various beliefs. Whether the Japanese Kamikaze pilots of World War II, jihadist bombers from Al Qaeda, or Jesus Christ in Rome, all have given their lives in pursuit of greater impact than what might have been gained if they had stayed alive to continue the fight.
In the case of Dr. King his live was taken and not the same but the idea that you few would face death for the lives of others is the constant. We can postulate what the world would have been like if King had “slowed” down or if he were still alive today but the fact remains he is gone and ” the movement” is by and large with out a central leader.
Perhaps might have gotten caught up in the polarization of the current news media just as the other civil rights leaders of his time have. But who is to say that it was his unique character that stood a chance at unifying the nation as he once did.
In the case of those that willing walk in the hands of the grim reaper we must ask if there is validity in this aim. Is it not still violence, even if inflicted upon ones’s own self? Or is the gesture grand enough to capture the attention of the masses and shift a consciousness toward change? We may never know as it is impossible to measure the thought directly but all the more reason to question the effectiveness of such a drastic and irreversible tactic.