MLKMartin Luther King Jr. was a pastor and a civil rights activist. He was noted for the significant role he played in bringing an end to the racial segregation of African American citizens in the United States. In pursuit of freedom and equality for African Americans, King was arrested and detained several times. He was stabbed and almost killed by an assailant in Harlem while on a speaking tour. However, he maintained resolute and continued non-violent struggle against racial discrimination for the African Americans, an idea he picked from Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence in India. In the face of oppression, intimidation and death, MLK maintained a forgiving spirit. He said that “forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” [1]

MLK was an eloquent speaker, his 1963 speech “I have a dream” attended by 250,000 people, was regarded as the largest civil rights demonstration in history. In the speech, MLK 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 color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” [2]  MLK was the youngest person to have been awarded the Nobel peace price at a youthful age of 35. [3] Apart from founding the Southern Leadership Christian Leadership Conference to fight segregation and to achieve civil rights for the American blacks, he created the awareness that led to the signing into law of the US Civil Rights Acts of 1965 and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965. MLK endured pain, humiliation, threats and injustice to achieve liberation for the American blacks. [4]  He said that “He, who is devoid of the power to forgive, is devoid of the power to love.” [5]

The suffering that MLK experienced in his struggle for freedom and justice for the African Americans did not in any way make him to despise authorities. MLK was arrested and detained for five times under various circumstances. First, he was arrested in 1955 for supporting bus boycott. African Americans boycotted the use buses because they were discriminated against and often not allowed to ride on the same buses with their white counterparts. Second, he was arrested in Atlanta during a counter sit-in waiting at an all-white restaurant.  MLK was sentenced to four months imprisonment, but he was released after the intervention of President John Kennedy. Two years later, he was arrested again in Albany during an unsuccessful protest against racial discrimination. MLK was also arrested and detained on two different occasions in Alabama for demonstrating without permission and during a voting rights demonstration.

While at the Birmingham prison, Alabama, MLK wrote a famous letter during his 11 days arrest and detention, “Letter from the Birmingham prison.”  In the letter, MLK said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  He asserted that he can not sit in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham, he maintained that whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. He further stated that “never again can we afford to live with the narrow provincial outside agitator idea, and that he is in Birmingham because injustice existed.” [6] MLK used a biblical quote to support his argument for Birmingham demonstrations, “Just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.” [7]  MLK left a food for thought for his jailers, said, “But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no  alternative.” [8] 

Despite MLK’s several arrests and detention, he drew strength from the power of love, forgiveness and non-violence. MLK said: “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act.” [9] It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. He further said that forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning, [10] and we are free from the mental block that impede new relationships. [11]Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies. These prophetic expressions of MLK still reverberate as inspiration to oppressed people all over the world.

[1]  “Goodreads | Quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: Forgiveness Is Not an Occasional Act, It Is a C…,” accessed November 28, 2013, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/57037-forgiveness-is-not-an-occasional-act-it-is-a-constant.

[2]  “MLK Day 2010: I Have A Dream & Letter From Birmingham Quotes | NowPublic News Coverage,” accessed November 28, 2013, http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/mlk-day-2010-i-have-dream-letter-birmingham-quotes-2558686.html.

[3]  “Timeline of Events in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life,” accessed November 28, 2013, http://www.lib.lsu.edu/hum/mlk/srs216.html.

[4]   “Timeline of Events in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Life,” accessed November 28, 2013, http://www.lib.lsu.edu/hum/mlk/srs216.html.

[5]  “Loving Your Enemies,” accessed November 28, 2013, http://interfaithtexas.org/loving-your-enemies/.

[6]  “Letter from Birmingham Jail – Full Text,” accessed November 27, 2013, http://abacus.bates.edu/admin/offices/dos/mlk/letter.html.

[7]   “What Is the Purpose of Kings Letter from Jail?,” accessed November 28, 2013, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20101030223518AAstm0K.

[8]   “M.L.King: Birmingham Jail,” accessed November 28, 2013, http://www.crisispapers.org/liberty/king-letter.htm.

[9]  “Loving Your Enemies,” accessed November 28, 2013, http://interfaithtexas.org/loving-your-enemies/.

[10]  “Forgiveness and Reconciliation: A Challenge from Martin Luther King, Jr. | NEAR EMMAUS,” accessed November 29, 2013, http://nearemmaus.com/2013/01/15/forgiveness-and-reconciliation-a-challenge-from-martin-luther-king-jr/.

[11] “Loving Your Enemies,” accessed November 28, 2013, http://interfaithtexas.org/loving-your-enemies/.