Tomorrow could have been the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 82nd birthday, had an assassin’s bullet not so cruelly silenced his voice. At a turbulent time when this nation could have easily descended into the flames of a second Civil War, King’s leadership charged his followers, righteously angry and understandably desiring revenge, to adopt a far more measured and difficult course — a course that may well have been the only path leading to the significant, albeit incomplete, civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s.
Borrowing from the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament and Mahatma Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King Jr. advocated passive resistance as the only viable path to the freedom that he and his followers sought. King was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and at present, is the only figure in our history whose birthday is designated as a national holiday, since Abraham Lincoln’s and George Washington’s birthdays are no longer celebrated as separate distinct holidays.
Even the most cowardly can quickly and easily summon hatred, leaning upon it as one would a crutch, as a means to justify all manner of atrocities. King advocated meeting that hatred with love, a powerful but unquantifiable concept as foreign, frightening and unknowable to an oppressor as sunlight to a vampire.