Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
EMMA Legend Award 2003
EMMA salutes the leader of America’s greatest non-violent movement and ambassador for racial justice and equality.
"I have a dream … that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character." – Excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King's infamous speech.
In 1954, the US Supreme Court outlawed segregation in schools, and what should have been the overdue start of racial tolerance instead ignited another period of violent protest.
These events thrust a 26-year-old Reverend with natural charisma and magnetic oratory skills into a battle for racial equality that would ultimately cost him his life.
The son of a preacher, Martin Luther King Jr. was born on 15 January 1929. His ideology of peaceful protest in the Civil Rights era couldn’t have differed more from the radical stance taken by Malcolm X, who held his own sway on the path of Black Nationalism. During his infamous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Dr King said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”.
Are we living Dr King’s dream of universal brotherhood and sisterhood in a world of no colour today? Whilst in many cases the glass ceilings of institutional racism remain intact, black people across the world have shattered records of excellence in education, politics, business, media and sport.
Dr King’s influence on the African-American Civil Rights movement has been well documented; the impact of his work on Blacks experiencing racial hatred in other parts of the world has also been considerably far-reaching. Paul Stephenson – enamoured with the bus boycott staged in Alabama by Dr King and Edward D. Nixon, a high-profile community leader – organised a boycott in 1963 against the Bristol Bus Company, which refused to hire black workers.
Following in the same foot steps, an organisation called The Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD), made an appearance in London in 1964. In Windrush, co-authors Mike Phillips and Trevor Phillips described its formation: “After King’s tour, a number of Caribbeans, many of whom were show business personalities or already involved in race relations work, together with a group of white liberals and the clergy, created the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination.”
This in turn spawned other race-relations organisations, such as the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), established in 1976, and the Anti-Racist Alliance, created in 1991. Although The Parekh Report on ‘The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain’ and the Macpherson Report on institutional racism do not make encouraging readings 40 years on from Dr King’s keynote speech in America’s Capital, we have made progress; although Dr King’s ‘dream’ has not yet been fully realised.
Bigotry and fear led to Dr. King’s death by a sniper’s bullet on 4 April 1968. Martin Luther King’s award for the Nobel Peace Prize recognises his work to gain respect and constitutional rights for his people. In Cornel West’s book Breaking Bread, he describes a race transcending prophet as “someone who never forgets about the significance of race but refuses to be confined by race.” Today, his widow, Coretta Scott King, carries on his work through the King Centre for Social Change in Atlanta.
One of their schemes, King Papers Project, aims to collate his sermons, speeches, published writings, unpublished work and letters into a definitive fourteen-page volume. They also work with schools to create historically correct material on social change, known as the Liberation Curriculum. Dr Clayborne Carson, who runs the project, says of King: “His life and thought offers hope and inspiration to all people in the world who continue to struggle for peace with justice.” As this year’s recipient of the EMMA Legend Award, Martin Luther King Jr. truly encompasses the spirit of the decoration; achieving social change throughout his professional lifetime and continuing to impact race relations thereafter. His determination to fight for freedom and justice with peace and honour continues to affect the lives of people of colour here and in the U.S. If we do get to the Promised Land, he won’t be with us in body, but his spirit will certainly live on.
www.thekingcenter.org – Non-profit organisation promoting and educating the philosophy and methods of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
www.nps.gov/malu - Dr Martin Luther King Historic site
www.mlkmemorial.org - National Memorial Project Foundation
http://www.time.com/time/time100/leaders/profile/king.html - The Time 100 Most Famous People of the Century