We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our newest scholar/rogue is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Most Americans, no matter what they think of him, know King’s story well. The son of a Baptist minister, King attended segregated schools (graduating high school at 15), then attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. From there he went to seminary and then to Boston University from which he received his PhD in theology. Barely more than a year after accepting his first pulpit, King accepted the leadership of the first great civil rights “direct action” campaign, the bus boycott in Montgomery, AL, in 1955. In 1957 King became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a new organization founded to offer leadership and guidance to the burgeoning civil rights movement and a group that took its ideals from Christianity and its operating procedures from those of Gandhi. Over the next eleven years he “traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles.”
King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated in 1968. He was 39….
King fought against forces that used history as justification for the repression of people and violence, intimidation, and oppression as tools. King’s response, as he noted in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, was to oppose violence with passive resistance – as one of his heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, had done:
…nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.
King lived up to this principle. Those who opposed him – forces that used arrest, assault, and finally assassination to try to stop the movement he led – failed. Although they continue to try to reverse his work….
But this doesn’t entirely explain King’s “scholar rogue” status….
Since Dr. King’s death there have been systematic attempts to discredit him – accusations ranging from plagiarism in his academic work (true) to womanizing (probable although still disputed) and consorting with communists (dubious) intent on overthrow of the United States government.
One thing we know about King – he’d have prayed for forgiveness for himself and asked for forgiveness of – and for – his enemies. That puts him into roguish company, indeed.
And finally, there’s King’s desire for freedom and equal treatment for every man:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”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….
And this will be the day – this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
“My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!”
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true….
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Those are the words of our kind of scholar and a rogue….