Martin Luther King and “The Other America”

50 years

(Photo Santi Visalli / Getty)

The March for Our Lives students are presently receiving death threats and profanity-laced tirades, from so-called adults, for their campaign against American gun violence.  However – between pop quizzes and learning how to drive – they’re undeterred.

Someone else experienced a similar backlash for his activism.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached nonviolence to end segregation, poverty, and war.  He was ridiculed, threatened, jailed, beaten, and ultimately assassinated… 50 years ago today.

In a speech at Stanford University on April 14, 1967 (known as “The Other America” speech), he said something that could be equally applicable to today’s debate over gun control laws:

Although it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.  Even though it may be true that the law cannot change the heart, it can restrain the heartless.  Even though it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, it can restrain him from (killing) me… And so while the law may not change the hearts of men, it can and does change the habits of men.

King followed this by observing that, once habits change, attitudes and hearts will follow suit.  Based on the behavior of many of our current (elected) leaders, history has yet to render a verdict on this.

On this dark anniversary, it’s good to remember we had a leader of integrity, who was also unafraid to dream.

(To hear King, click the link above, and scroll to 30:00 for the quote)

(Photo Agence France Presse)

4 thoughts on “Martin Luther King and “The Other America”

  1. Very interesting comparison to gun violence today. I’m just not sure which makes me sadder–the fact that people have to create a campaign to tackle something as common sense as gun control or the fact that the widespread racism Dr King was trying to wipeoutvis still with us 50 years later.

    • Yeah, King was referring to a civil rights bill in Congress when he said this, but his words equally apply to legislation of guns. There’ve been lots of gains in civil rights since King, but a lot of it is superficial. The Voting Rights Act recently sabotaged, red states making it harder to vote, gerrymandering, election of racists like Trump… And, of course, both issues (race and gun violence) are inextricably linked, since blacks are by far the biggest victims of gun violence, either from each other or from cops. It’s a two-pronged battle (three-pronged if you include poverty). As always, youth are the best hope for change. Thanks, wl61.

  2. Your second paragraph is what I was getting at on your previous take. “A special person”. King wasn’t just a once in a while type activist. He lived and did it every day.
    Just watched a program on Ledonna Harris. She might interest you if you don’t know of her already. She talked about the different types of activism. You’re keeping CB’s thoughts in important places.

    • I’ve always admired King, but with this anniversary, I’ve listened to a couple of his speeches straight through. It’s important not to let idolatry of him overshadow the causes, but he’s the most powerful orator I’ve ever heard. He was a combination minister, prophet, humanitarian, crusader. His words give me goosebumps. We always manage to crucify our greatest leaders. Our small minds can’t seem to deal with them.

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