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An Epic Orator: In Honor of MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored posthumously with a federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan. Also known as MLK, Dr. King was a champion of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Inspired by the nonviolent protests of Mahatma Gandhi in India and by the teachings of Jesus Christ, Dr. King’s influence came from a powerfully quiet place, a turn your cheek attitude that led to national legislative changes. Yet, Reagan warned with the creation of the holiday that “traces of bigotry still mar” the country. On January 18th, 2021, the evidence remains of that unfortunate truth.

I believe that Dr. King’s message speaks volumes today. Tragically assassinated on April 4th, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, for speaking his truth, his words continue to reverberate through the years. It is his words that need to live on, as recent events clearly show. As an ELAR teacher, his words in the form of letters, speeches, and other writings were powerful lessons to adolescent students. What I hoped to teach, whether we were analyzing Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech or his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” was not just historical context (which was certainly embedded), or the power of rhetoric and persuasion, or even Dr. King’s deftly skill in weaving words to create powerful imagery that transcends the page... It wasn’t just one of those things. Dr. King’s work was the whole package. Even if the vocabulary was complex, once unpacked, even struggling readers could comprehend the depths of his message.

Change does not come from violent insurrection. Change does not come from rage and anger. Change is slow, a tortoise pace of reflection and realization that. Collectively, as a society, Dr. King’s legacy is to choose love and kindness over violence and hatred. Speak your truth, respectfully. Make your presence known. Words have meaning, consequential implications, and Dr. King knew how to use words to passionately inspire others to join the Civil Rights Movement.

These are just a few of his most powerful quotes. Rather than editorialize, Dr. King’s words speak for themselves.

“Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.”

“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

“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.”

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love... violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”


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