5 Life Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King
January 19, 2010
#2: Change Is Constant – It’s Your Reaction That Matters
Just because Dr. King was mostly an agent for great social change doesn’t mean that change came easily for him. Rising to leadership in an often fractured coalition of church and social organizations led to a number of shifts and changes that he could have never anticipated.
In 1963, the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held in Washington D.C. While Dr. King was initially opposed to the original, more confrontational idea of the march, he still agreed to participate. Looking past his fears that the large public march would hamper the passage of civil rights legislation, he wound up crafting one of the most electrifying and impactful messages of the struggle – no doubt winning over ignorant, but open minds, that would have otherwise remained closed.
This is just one instance where Dr. King was thrown off course or ran into conflict with an ever changing movement that he was a player in. By adjusting to the latest development, always maintaining dignity and composure, and reacting in a way that would contribute rather than detract, he navigated over near insurmountable obstacles on the road to freedom.
#3: Something In Your Way? Sometimes You Have to Go Around Instead of Through
We all know that the cornerstone of Dr. King’s approach to the civil rights struggle was non-violent civil disobedience, but what does that actually mean? Likewise, we’re all aware of the tale of Rosa Parks, who was arrested after refusing to move to the back of the bus. But how does one arrest result in a non-violent movement? Time and pressure.
The resulting Montgomery Bus Boycott, began in late 1955 and lasted an astounding 385 days. During that time, King’s organization arranged carpools to shuttle boycotters to and from work and church and encouraged black cab drivers to discount their fares to match the typical bus fare of the day. The boycott took over a year, but effectively crippled Montgomery’s economy through sheer collective will, and the resulting pressure resulted in the 1956 federal district court decision that desegregated Alabama’s bus system.
Though it might have been more satisfying to preach direct action and even advocate violence, as some of his contemporaries did, by taking the more indirect approach of demonstrating a collective will and buying power he was able to effect long-lasting change instead of harsh reprisal.
Understanding this very simple, yet very difficult to carry out, principle made Dr. King and his followers more powerful than any riot.