The connection between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King

342px-Martin_Luther_King_Sr,_c1977-81 (1)As the world reflects on the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, it is evident that some people–and not just the young and history deprived–confuse Martin Luther the Reformer with Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader.

One thing I learned from the new Luther documentary is that there really is a connection.  Rev. Michael King, Sr., was an African-American Baptist minister, whose son was named Michael King, Jr.   Rev. King, an early civil rights activist, attended a conference in Germany, where he became interested in Martin Luther.

When he returned home to Atlanta, he changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr.  And he also changed his 5-year-old son’s name to Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Both Rev. Kings saw Luther as an example of someone who instigated great change by non-violent methods.

UPDATE:  But is the account of “Mike King” changing his name really true?  Carl Vehse, who has developed a specialty in exposing Luther myths, gives evidence to the contrary in the comments here.

Photo of Martin Luther King, Sr., By White House Staff Photographer,  Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11753583 [Read more…]

Prayer and Protest

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the civil rights protest that featured Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his eloquent “I Have a Dream” speech.  The Washington Post printed a number of accounts from people who were there.

Raymond S. Blanks tells about meeting at his Baptist congregation and holding a prayer service before getting on the bus to Washington.  He describes marchers singing hymns and listening to sermons. “Before noon,” he recalls, “the Mall was transformed into a place of prayer, protest and pride.” [Read more…]

The “I have a dream” speech

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Clarence Jones, an aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., recounts the background of the famous “I have a dream” speech, which really is a spectacular piece of oratory.  According to his account, Dr. King worked on a policy-type speech, showing it to a number of different individuals and getting their input.  But when he actually got up there at the Lincoln Memorial to speak, the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was in the crowd and said, “tell them about the dream!”  Dr. King then improvised the speech, turning it into a sermon, which gave it its power.

See On Martin Luther King Day, remembering the first draft of ‘I Have a Dream’.

I remember, growing up in small town Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s, seeing side-by-side water fountains, one with a sign for “whites” and one with a sign for “coloreds.” The town swimming pool was only open to black people on Wednesdays, after which the water would be changed for white people to swim in the rest of the week. I don’t know if black people were allowed to vote, but they certainly were not in much of the South.

I also remember the Civil Rights Movement and the change in the sentiments of that small town. It was, first of all, an application of transcendent morality to the treatment of black people. I recall vividly the appeal to Christian ethics and how churches of all stripes were exerting leadership. I remember how moved people were by Dr. King’s principles of non-violence and non-resistance. The Civil Rights Movement triumphed by simply winning people over.

The Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King was not just a political fight; rather, it was a moral crusade. It changed both political parties. It was predicated on moral principles being objectively valid. Churches exerted moral authority.

So Martin Luther King Day is a holiday that conservatives, as well as liberals, can celebrate.