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Essay: Martin Luther King Jr.

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The idea of a prophet is a very interesting and controversial one, because of what a prophets job was in the Old Testament. In a general sense it was to spread the word of God even if it was not a popular idea. The prophets were also controversial because of their views and their image in the general public. While the public did not like their views, the message they sent was morally right. Abraham Heschel has his views on a prophet in his book called The Prophets. Heschel says “The Prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently holy, revered, and awesome”(Heschel,19) but he still believed that their messages are true and right. Martin Luther King Jr. is a modern day prophet because of all the things he did to contribute to the civil rights movement.
King’s push for civil rights is why he is a modern day prophet. Martin Luther King Jr. was a well-known civil rights leader and activist who had great influence on American society in the 1950s and 1960s. His strong belief in nonviolent protest helped set the tone of the movement. Boycotts, protests, and marches were effective over time, and legislation was passed against racial discrimination. King’s life was filled with many great accomplishments, in which he worked to promote the equal treatment of all races his non-violent approach to protesting, his legions of followers, and his true belief in the ability of mankind to live in peace went a long way toward advancement of civil rights during this time in history. King’s accomplishments are numerous. Some of his major achievements included being a member for non-violent protest in the Memphis sanitation worker strike, providing leadership in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, his famous I Have a Dream speech, and being a major helper in establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, which was a civil rights organization that supported the idea of nonviolence.
Martin Luther King did many things to bring equality and to make sure everyone has the same rights regardless of their race. Mr. King’s goals he accomplished include trying to make major civil rights activities and efforts seen by majority of the public, encourage his followers of how important nonviolent protests can help their cause immensely. One primary example of King’s nonviolent protests is when the sanitation workers in Memphis where protesting about their working conditions, low pay and how they were discriminated against. The workers’ push for equal pay began when they saw the full extent of their horrible working conditions. On February 1 1968 two Memphis garbage collectors were crushed to death by the malfunctioning truck. The city had not done anything about the situation, so as a result about one thousand and three hundred workers went on strike. The strike was led by union organizer T. O. Jones whom was supported by the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Jerry Wurf.
King showed up late to the march which was close to erupting into chaos, in seeing this King ordered that the march be called off as it was against his belief of nonviolence. As soon as King left everything went into chaos stores were looted by the protesters and a sixteen year old child was shot by a police officer. When the protesters returned to the church where they had organized the protest, the law enforcement officers proceeded to throw tear gas and hit the protesters on the ground trying to get fresh air. King was hesitant about going back to Memphis but when he did return he gave his speech I’ve Been to the Mountaintop to many dedicated sanitation workers King preached about his morality by telling the group “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now, I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land” (King, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop). The next day King was assassinated. This event showed how truly dedicated King was to the cause because even though he was hesitant he knew it would be beneficial to go back and lead the workers.
In 1963, King and other leaders of the civil rights movement organized a huge march for equal rights in Washington, DC. With a crowd of over 200,000 followers, the march was protesting racial discrimination in employment, racial separatism in schools, and they demanded minimum wage for all workers. It was the largest gathering in Washington, DC’s history, and it was were King gave his most famous speech, I Have a Dream. As a result of the march and the speech, citizens began to put pressure on John F. Kennedy and his administration, encouraging the president to push for civil rights laws to pass through Congress and become recognized on a national level. This event is arguably King’s most known speech and protest he had ever delivered.
Another member of the civil rights movement was Abraham Heschel. King and Heschel had similar views, one main example of this was when Martin Luther King made his speech called Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. The speech was a powerful and angry speech that argued against the war, saying “A time comes when silence is betrayal”(King, Beyond Vietnam). At that point King spoke out against the war and majority of the supporters that were in favor of the civil rights movement. One supporter in particular who would cut off all support to King was President Johnson because the speech would alienate him. Heschel and King knew the consequences of going through with their views on the war, but it was a view they believed was right no matter the cost. While losing a major part of his supporters, King’s devotion to this cause grew even larger. While most people would have just given up after some backlash from the public, King never quit even after his house was bombed in an attempt to murder King, his devotion and pride grew larger because of his belief. Heschel was also looked down upon in his community because most Jews believed that he should focus more on the problems in relation to the Jewish people.
King never backed down on the movement. His devotion to it, his fight to keep his protests nonviolent, his contributions to it and also the messages he sent during this movement. Everything he did had a meaning and a purpose, such as delivering his speech I Have a Dream at the Lincoln Memorial because of the initial push Lincoln made for equality. King even references Lincoln when saying “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity”(King, I Have a Dream). He was always devoted to it even through murder attempts, losing his followers such as President Johnson, the local news publishers, and even his own close followers when he delivered the Beyond Vietnam speech. King‘s push to keep his protests nonviolent helped the movement in the view of the public, but in doing so his followers thought it to be a coward move to not fight back. He says the meaning of why he kept it nonviolent through his speech at Dexter Baptist Church when he said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”(King, Love Your Enemies). His partnership with Heschel helped boost the movement, while Heschel faced challenges of his own, both King and Heschel found ways to help and benefit from each other. When looking back on Heschel’s idea of a prophet, King fits that idea perfectly, and that connection between both Heschel and King had a tremendous payoff in the end. King is a modern day prophet because of his devotion and contributions to the movement, but all of these actions are only a fraction of what he did to change not only the lives of african americans, but all of America forever.


  • “Documents.” Birmingham Campaign | The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-resources/documents.
  • Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Prophets. Harper Collins, 2001.
  • “Heschel, Abraham Joshua.” Birmingham Campaign | The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, 11 Jan. 1907, kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/heschel-abraham-joshua.
  • History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/topics/black-history/martin-luther-king-jr.
  • King Jr, Martin Luther. Beyond Vietnam
  • King Jr, Martin Luther. I Have a Dream
  • King Jr, Martin Luther. Love Your Enemies
  • “Martin Luther King Jr.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 18 Jan. 2018, www.biography.com/people/martin-luther-king-jr-9365086.
  • “Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike.” Birmingham Campaign | The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, 12 Feb. 1968, kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/memphis-sanitation-workers-strike.

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