Martin Luther King, Jr. – our newest Scholar Rogue

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.

He’d feel honored to know that his hero Gandhi has been trashed equally as vociferously. He’d be perhaps shocked, perhaps amused to know of the trashing of his harasser J. Edgar Hoover.

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….

9 replies »

  1. Beautiful tribute to a great American, Jim.

    Where might we be today if King had lived long enough to call Nixon and Reagan to account? And what fire and brimstone he would be preaching today! “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”

  2. NIce nice, a scholar rogue! King was a giant of a man. Taylor Branch layed it out there for us.

  3. Kiny was a visionary, way ahead of his time, and was willing to bring that vision into being. That brought him into direct conflict with the forces of evil- those would lynch for a drink of God’s water.

  4. As a young Scholar at Tuskegee Institute i must say that in these days and time one must look back at the past to learn about the future and instaed of putting a great athelete like michael vick down as smart intelligent human-beings we should help him.

    As i move up in the world i reach back and pull up my brouther

    Lean on me when your not strong

  5. Michael Vick was awarded a $130 million dollar contract and made the face of an NFL franchise. You talk like he’s a disabled homeless man who’s never had a break in his life.