For most of my life, I had been taught certain things about Martin Luther King, Jr. – specifically that he was a communist and an adulterer. Looking back, I wasn’t confident that my sources told me the truth or that those characterizations painted an honest picture of King.
I decided to study the life of Dr. Martin Luther King for myself. As part of my study, I listened to the audiobook version of Joseph Rosenbloom’s Redemption: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Last 31 Hours. I also read one of King’s earliest biographies, Let the Trumpet Sound, by Stephen B. Oates.
In hindsight, a better choice would have been one of David Garrow’s three biographies of King. Oates’ biography is thorough enough. Questions have been raised about plagiarism in his book, but that has more to do with the “gotcha” culture of acadamia than any legitimate problem with citations in his material. Oates answers these charges here, for reference. I got the overall impression that Oates was a bit too enamored with King to tackle some of the controversy surrounding his life. Nonetheless, I am glad I read this biography since it gave me a better perspective of King’s life and legacy.
When I finished those two books, I checked out from the library two documentaries about King’s life. The better documentary came from The History Channel and featured Tom Brokaw. The footage in that film included some of the most important events in King’s life. I enjoyed watching video of the things I read about in King’s biography.
What follows is a rundown of the things I took away from my research. I know that we have little tolerance for wordy online articles, but I hope you will “endure to the end!” Perhaps this article will help you better understand one of the truly iconic characters in American history.
He was a great man.
No man is without his flaws, and King had some glaring shortcomings. But King is worthy of honor, and I am glad to celebrate him.
By design, some men rise above the crowd. Martin Luther King, Jr was one such man. He would have been famous and wildly successful at whatever he attempted. He was a driven man; he had tremendous talent; he had a magnetic personality. The fact that he possessed so many marks of greatness makes it all the more remarkable that he dedicated his life to the civil rights movement. King did not launch the civil rights movement. Men like W.E.B DuBois and others fought for black people’s rights for many years before MLK came along. King drew our attention to the movement, put it in the national spotlight, and forced America to take note. It was the sheer force of his personality, his presence, that caught America’s attention.
He was a brilliant man.
He entered college while still fifteen years old and earned a Ph.D. when he was twenty-five. He wrote his thesis on “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.” He studied nearly all the great philosophers and almost all the Great Books. He wrote at least four books in his lifetime, the first while still in his twenties. He was conversant in all the great thinkers of Western Civilization, often quoting these philosophers in his sermons. He had a grasp on the nuances of the philosophies that influence our modern era. He knew these philosophies well enough that he could discuss them at length and explain his disagreements.
He was one of the last great orators.
It has been said that Martin Luther King was one of the last orators to use the grand style properly. I do not believe there has been a man with more natural oratorical skill since King died.
Continue reading “What I Learned About Martin Luther King, Jr.”