Today we celebrate the life of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A reminder of how perseverance, morality, and sheer force of will can be combined to achieve things with almost insurmountable odds. Born and raised in Atlanta, King was allowed to attend Morehouse College at 15, but left the summer before his senior year, at 18 years old, to join the ministry instead. Afterwards he earned his doctorate degree in systematic theology from Boston University.
Kings work in civil rights is especially well known. He led boycotts, sit ins, and marches, while giving impassioned speeches; fighting for his, and others’, civil rights. Montgomery’s Bus Boycott, Selma’s voting rights movement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and The March on Washington were only possible with Dr. King holding the reigns. His fight for rights, not just for people of color, but also of differing religions, sex, and national origin. In Dr. King’s mind there was no place for hatred of any kind, or for any purpose.
The allies of Dr. king were varied. Dr. King pledged to fight for all. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to Democracy everywhere.” One group who backed Dr. King and his movement were Jews. Jewish Communities all over the country rallied behind King. King saw parallels between the African Americans and the Jewish People. An example can be found during King’s Speech to the national convention of the American Jewish Congress in 1958. “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility,” King said.
Support from the Jewish Community for King grew enough to cause retaliation by those who opposed King. In October of 1958 The Temple in Midtown Atlanta was bombed. The Temple bombing was retaliation by white supremacists for Rabbi Jacob Rothschild’s support of the civil rights movement. Rabbi Rothschild helped planned King’s Nobel Prize Reception and it was at this time Coca-Cola aligned itself with King. As Large Companies and People of influence were disinterested in attending King’s Nobel Prize reception, executives for the Atlanta Based soft drink made it abundantly clear to these people that Atlanta needed them more than they needed Atlanta, and they should think carefully about what they did. All invited ended up attending the event.
It may have taken time, but Atlanta has learned to embrace Dr. King and his message. His memory lives on in the Martin Luther King Center, The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, through schools named in his honor, and in the hearts of all Atlanta residents. In the Spirit of Martin Luther King Day, we ask ourselves to live and do as he would, and maybe make the world a better place in the meantime.