The fight for equality in Martin Luther King’s life and writings


Many leaders have had inspiring literature but not many have been inspiring than Martin Luther King Junior. Since his death, King’s works have received criticism from many quarters. Some of the criticisms portray him as a larger that life character. King’s early life experiences shaped his faith, later life, career and even marriage to a very large extent. Martin Luther King Junior was born and brought up in a strictly religious family. His family; father, mother and grandparents were leaders in the Baptist church in America.

For instance his paternal grandfather was a pastor in this church where his father later became a pastor. Due to their active involvement in church Martin Luther King Junior spent much of his childhood in Ebenezer Baptist church. As he grew up he was saddened by the notable differences brought about by racism. At the age of six he discovered that he could not go to the same school as his white play mate and best friend. This and such experiences lead to the realization of how unjust the American society was. Gradually he engaged himself in civil rights movements to become a renowned religious human rights activist.

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He wrote articles and gave inspiring speeches. Even though his works proposed non-violent protests, they still attracted sharp criticism, both positive and negative from various quarters. His writings have come under heavy criticism especially from Africana Studies scholars who question whether they contained the necessary intellectual content to be declared academic. Furthermore King has also been declared a plagiarist. However not all criticism has been negative. It has been claimed that he was a great leader whose activities had massive effects on the historical human rights movements. Despite all the criticism leveled against him, his works greatly influenced by his early life experiences, have had a large impact in the clamor for equality amongst all races.

The history of inequality in the 1950’s and 1960’s

The foundation of true democratic society that respected the basic freedom, liberty and other basic rights can be traced back to the grate American civil war of 1860s.

The south was defeated and as such one of the effects of the war was to help reconstruct this region by putting in democratic laws. The American human right and equality movement had gone on for quit a while prior to the 1950. The black American had fought courageously for equality and thus ended the inhuman slave trade and labor. However, an equality revolution occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.The revolution heightened in the 1960s, but the events of that was shaped by what had happened in the1950s.

The 1950s America was more peaceful in terms of protest. Americans were fairly tolerable of each other. The economy was good as it was driven by the power of the middle class. However, deep a seated cold war between races eventually gave way in the 1960s. The revolution grew out of the increasing oppression, there rising poverty levels, racial and cultural divisions as well as risk political pressure and tensions (Lewis para 3). The tensions underlined were heightened in the 1950s by increasing opposition to legalization of racism and inequality by The Jim Crow laws.

The laws legalized racial segregation and inequality. The blacks were also denied basic needs such as the right to vote, decent education and jobs. This inequality was justified by its supporters who argue that the whites economic prosperity depended on keeping the blacks at the lowest ebb of the society ladder (Lewis para 4). Other than the economic reasons, some other factors lead to the increase of human rights revolution in the late 1950 to 19 60s. Some of the blacks had moved from the south to the northern states which had not legalized racism. The blacks in northern states were treated well and enjoyed equal treatment as the whites. As such this motivated the southern blacks to demand for equality.

Finally the events after the World War II also inspired the equality movement in America. This is because America declaration for justice peace and freedom for all. The black in the south thus demanded that the American government hold true its promise of freedom and equality (Lewis para 9- 11).

The revolution was lead by a number of activists such as Martin Luther king junior, Malcolm X among others. Early life experiences of martin Luther king influenced his involvement in search fro an equal society

Kings earlier life experiences that influenced his later life

Martin Luther King Junior’s early life experiences had a very large impact on him and his career as a human rights activist. Like all the blacks in the southern states he came into contact with racial inequalities at a very early age. However, there is no record to show that he was unaware of the social inequalities before he was six years old.

This is despite the fact that he went to an all blacks Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. However, when he turned six and it was time to go to school, he for the first time experienced the ugly reality of racism. At that time he was told that he could not go to the same school as his white best friend because he was colored. This shocking revelation came from the parents of his white best friend.

Upon inquiry from his parents, they responded well by explaining to him the history of the racism in America (Fleming 6). Growing up under strict Baptist parents was another significant and influential development that shaped his life. He grew up under a very strict father who almost forcibly taught his children to respect the Christian commandments and have an absolute belief in God. It is reported that by the time he was five he could recite the Ten Commandments (9).

Martin Luther king junior was close to his grandmother than to his parents. He would therefore accompany her to church and sing alongside her in the church choir. It is probably this early exposure to singing in public that enhanced his commendable oratory skill that later became his chief asset in his works. His opposition to social inequities was evident in his earlier life, such as when he refused to buy shoes from the colored section in a shoes shop as well as when he with his white music teacher refused to sit separately in a bus. Thus his early life experiences prepared him for his career.

An overview of kings works in relation to the fight for equality

One of the characteristic factors of all Kings’ writings is the determined and unhindered fight for equal rights. His writings as well as his speeches justifiably assert the notion that equality of all races is the responsibility of all people. His works fought for equal treatment by providing equal employment opportunities. He lamented, however that the under privileged had been denied basic education.

As such this put them in an unduly disadvantaged position that would only qualify them for poorly paid menial labor. The black, especially, were the largest victims of this unjust treatment in a country that had implemented the equal treatment for all more than a hundred years ago. The denials of basic education thus automatically put them in lower level jobs t. As such they were relegated to only do menial jobs. Such inequalities are however brought about by the misunderstanding and the different interpretation of the term “equality” (King, King and Harding 8). As such these differences in definition exposed the gaps between the existing realities and the intended goal of an equal society. King in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail also accused the white of being democrats but practicing the “antithesis of democracy” (King, King and Harding 21).

Even though the letter had some religious messages, Martin Luther opted to adopt the intellectual approach in his argument about the need for the church, lead by its clergy, to be at the forefront in the fight for an equal society. In this letter, he drew many examples on how the church had failed the same society it claimed to serve. He argued that the church’s refusal to support efforts to stem racial inequality was equal to preaching water and drinking wine (King para 25). His works continued to highlight that the effect of the legalized racism were greater and went beyond the social protests. The economic burden of racism was too big a burned to handle. Employing the uneducated black in American companies would lead to low quality goods which are an economic waste.

Furthermore, the black had to be economically empowered to have the necessary buying power. This is because American as becoming a master of mass production and as such hard to search for markets for its goods. The black community provided a lucrative market.

Doing this would mean empowering the black through education, provisions of better jobs that would lead to better buying power. Furthermore king lamented that the distribution chain of manufactured good had to be improved so as to serve black neighborhood (King, King and Harding 21). It would have been easy to accuse King of only fighting for equal rights of only blacks in Americans. he proved his critics wrong by also highlighting the need to not only have social equality but also economic equality amongst all members of the society.

King was shocked by the fact that white and black civil rights workers had been brutally killed for demanding a justice course for all (King, King and Harding 2).

Scholarly criticism of King’s writings

Martin Luther King Junior‘s works has drawn much criticism from many quarters (Carson 1). His writings have received both negative and positive criticism. Anthony Cook, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Florida asserts that King, like many of the Critical legal Scholars who have bravely sought to transform the great American society wrestled with many of the theoretical dilemmas that were the basis of the equality movement (Cook 985). King did not just stop at that: he and engaged himself in gainful experiences as well the social struggles of the equality movement. Cook adds that martin Luther king junior drew his inspiration and thought from religious as well as the politics of the time. The result is that king created a superior and ideal society devoid of all the social evils that existed in the 1950s and 60s America. Thus his works were beyond mere words.

Carson (1) agrees with Prof Cook and adds that King’s writings contained deep religious messages of love and peace. However, religious messages were less evident in his writings as they were in his oral speeches. This is because most of these speeches were constructed as summons. As such they had to assume a religious perspective on the issue of inequality. In many of his speeches he pleaded with the masses not to adopt a philosophical approach to understanding God. This, he reasoned, would add to their confusion. Probably his unspoken conviction is that the uneducated black American would have had a problem philosophizing God. Not all black scholars have whole heartedly accepted King’s writings as purely scholarly.

These include some of the most respected Africana Studies scholars such as Molefi Asante and Maulana Kalenga. These two among many others argue that it is no doubt that King was a respected religious philosopher, well established in his own right. Furthermore they add that King’s leadership skills are unquestionable. However King’s works according to these two is subject to evaluation on whether it contains the intellectual content to be included in Africana Studies (Keatts ii). Many of the African scholars argue that even though King’s works played a major role in the fight for equality in America they cannot be equated to the works of early human right activist such as W.

E.B. Du Bois (6). Scholars are almost in agreement that Martin Luther King Junior’s contribution to the search for an equal and just American society was more prophetic than academic.

Kings activities, which included his preaching’s, his writings as well as social protests on equality have inspired many people over the years. However whether they can be used as valid scholarly sources is a debatable subject. Some of these scholars assert that such prophetic works lack the intellectual validity to be cited as academic sources. As such so many of the Africana Studies scholars have had to ignore king and embrace other black and equality rights activist such as Garvey, Nkrumah and Malcolm X (Karenga 3).


The contributions of Martin Luther King Jr., have had great impact not only on him as a person but also on many other people. His works and thoughts are documented in his writings. Scholars have applauded his works as prophetic as they crated a vision of an ideal society.

However such woks are debatable whether they can be included as academic sources as they lack the scholarly content. This is not intended to take away any criticism away from his works. They have still inspired the search fro equality in America.

Works Cited

Carson, Clayborne. “Editing Martin Luther King, Jr.: Political and Scholarly Issues.” In palimpsest: Editorial theory in the Humanities edited by George Bornstein and Ralph G. Williams, 305-316.

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993. Cook, Anthony. “Beyond Critical Legal Studies: The Reconstructive Theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” Harvard Law Review. 1990. April 18, 2011 http://www. Fleming, Alice. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Dream of Hope. New York: Sterling Publishing Co.

2008. Print Karenga, Maulana Introduction to Black Studies, Third Edition. Los Angeles, CA: University of Sankore Press. 2002.

Print Keatts, Quenton. “A Discourse Analysis of the Centered and Critical Scholar-Activism of Martin Luther King Jr.” 2010. April 18, 2011 Keatts_QL_T_2010.

pdf King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Mlkonline. 2011. April 18, 2011 http://www. King, Martin Luther, King, Coretta Scott, Harding, Vincent. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos Or Community? Massachusetts: Beacon Press. 2010 Lewis ,Chris.

The Black Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. 2002. April 18, 2011


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