Martin Luther King

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martin luther king

One of the world’s best known advocates of non-violent social change strategies, Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), synthesized ideals drawn from many different cultural traditions. Recent studies of him emphasize the extent to which his ideals were rooted in African-American religious traditions which were then shaped by his education. The image of a social activist and leader was the result of extensive formal education, strong personal values and licit ethics. This excellence in leadership can be traced to his character which is shaped by his moral values and personality. We look at MLK and these traits to reveal the rationalization of his rise to transracial leadership in our society.

Through studying the life and example of Martin Luther King, Jr., we learn that his moral values of integrity, love, truth, fairness, caring, non-violence, achievement and peace were what motivated him. King is not great because he is well known, he is great because he served as the cause of peace and justice for all humans. King is remembered for his humanity, leadership and his love of his fellow man regardless of skin color. This presence of strong moral values developed King’s character which enabled him to become one of the most influential leaders of our time.

Integrity is a central value in a leader’s character and it is through integrity that King had vision of the truth. The truth that one day this nation would live up to the creed, “all men are created equal”. No man contributed more to the great progress of blacks during the 1950’s and 1960’s than Martin Luther King, Jr. He was brought up believing “one man can make a difference”, and this is just what he did. Integrity has a large effect on what we think, say and do, it is through King’s thoughts and actions that enabled so many people to have trust and faith in him. Through King’s integrity he believed that America, the most powerful and richest nation in the world will lead the way to a revolution of values. This revolution will change the way society views itself, shifting from a “thing-orientated” society to a “person-orientated” society. When this occurs, King believed that racism will be capable of being conquered and this nation will be “Free at last.”

King’s unconditional love for all humans was another value that strongly influenced his character and allowed him to have such excellent leadership ability. King described his meaning of love in one of his many speeches, “A Time to Break Silence”:

“ When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and

weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great

religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love

is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate


King has been considered an extremist which he was not sure how to deal with at first. After careful consideration he believed that if he were to be called an extremist for love, it could only be taken as a compliment and he came to the realization that the world was in dire need for more extremists. King did not want to be remembered after his death by his Nobel Peace Prize or his many other awards, he wanted people to say “...that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody...And I want you to say that I tried to love and save humanity”. Even when his own life and the life of his family was threatened, King did not react with hatred or violence, he found more strength and courage and told his fellow men, “I want you to love your enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them.” Therefore, King’s love for the human race led him to focus his ministry and speeches in obedience to Jesus Christ, who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them.

King’s ability to speak the truth is another value that made him such an influential leader. This ability is one reason why King was asked to be the leader of so many important protest marches and sit-ins. His mother was aware of King’s ability to speak the truth very early in his life, “He drew people to him from the very first moment by his eloquence, his sincerity, and his moral stature”. King’s followers believed that he would speak nothing but the truth but in King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, he could only hope that what he had written will be seen as the truth:

“If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and

indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me.

If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my

having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than

brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.”

King also believed that all people should be treated with equality and fairness and this became the basis for the Civil Rights Movement of which King was the leader of. This fairness is one value that allowed King’s followers to have so much respect for him, for some, he was more than a man, “The young people just envisioned a new hope and a new day, and the old folks saw in him a black Jesus. They used to love to call him ‘My Boy’ or ‘My Son’. They worshipped him”. King’s followers felt this way about him because they had never before been treated with such fairness, they had never had anything to equal this in their whole lifetime. He lifted them so high that they could not help but think that he was an act sent to them from God.

It is obvious that King’s character was strongly influenced by his caring and compassion for all human beings, regardless of skin color. King’s ability to show how he cared for his fellow man was evident in the way he was able to get deeply into the hearts of people through his famous speeches. King cared so much for his people that during 1963 he traveled about 275 000 miles and made more than 350 speeches in his efforts to reach his fellow men. It is through his caring and inner strength that King has made himself “the unchallenged voice of the Negro people - and the disquieting conscience of the whites”.

King’s fight for justice was perhaps the most significant values that made him one of the most influential leaders of all time. He believed that one day justice will prevail for blacks as is seen in most famous speech of all time, the speech, “ I Have a Dream”:

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert

state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be

transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

King wanted to see justice prevail and he and many of his follower felt that it did in the signing of the 1964 and 1968 Civil Rights Act. Blacks now had many rights that they were previously refused, they now had the right to vote, access public accommodations, and racial discrimination was prohibited in the sale or rental of housing. With this King was one step closer to seeing that this nation can live up to the creed, “all men are created equal”. King believed in his fight for justice so strongly that he described himself as follows:

“If you want to say that I was a drum major,

say that I was a drum major for justice;

say that I was a drum major for peace;

I was a drum major for righteousness”.

Non-violence is a very important moral value that shapes the character of any great leader. This is by far one of the strongest attributes which enabled him to reach his plateau of leadership excellence. King was an advocate of non-violent means of achieving civil rights reform. He had a very clear and concise idea of what he wanted to achieve and how to achieve it. Non-violence was the major driving force behind his plans. King was very much aware of the power of non-violent tactics in an attempt for social changes. President Kennedy gave respect to the movement and reacted to protests in Birmingham by agreeing to submit broad civil rights legislation to Congress, which eventually passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

King had modeled his philosophy on that of Mohandas Gandhi, who is one of the worlds greatest advocates of non-violent resistance. During his meeting with Gandhi he became more convinced than ever that non-violent resistance was the most powerful weapon for oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. He voiced his beliefs of non-violent resistance in his “I have a dream”, speech which has become, for good reason, one of the worlds most memorable speeches of our time. He said:

The true meaning of a man is not how he behaves in moments of

comfort and convince, but how he stands at times of controversy

and challenge.

We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical

violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of

meeting physical force with soul force.

The dynamics of this moral value of non-violence are very evident in the make up of Martin Luther King Jr.’s character. This is why this tactic of active non-violence (sit-ins, protest marches) had put civil-right squarely on the national agenda, and this is also why Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil-rights leader is known for his leadership excellence.

King’s lifetime achievement is one for the record books. This moral value (achievement) is one that is key to any great leader. It shapes the character of the individual, and the drive for achievement maps out the plan of success and leadership excellence. His remarkable achievement started in school. He was not motivated by fame and fortune, but by the personal satisfaction knowing that he was making a positive impact in the life of others. He graduated with a bachelor of divinity degree, as valedictorian and student body president. He then went on to be awarded a doctorate from Boston University. He was not a person that was content with what he had accomplished, he was motivated for a higher level of achievement. This is when he became a prominent American civil-rights leader. King’s effectiveness in achieving his objectives was limited not merely by divisions among blacks, however, but not also by the increasing resistance he encountered from national political leaders. At the time of his death he did not achieve everything that he set forth to do, but he did reach legendary status for his achievements in his quest for equal justice for everyone in America.

Any individual in history who has been set apart by their leadership excellence all have in common the value of peace. Mohandas Gandhi, who is one of our greatest leaders of our time has peace and non-violence as his greatest attributes. King was one of Gandhi’s greatest admirers. King learned of the importance of peace as an important value for leadership qualities from Gandhi. This is shown through his insistence of non-violent tactics in the struggle for equal justice. The values of non-violence and peace are very much intertwined . Both are key elements of King’s character and actions. His actions are a result of his values. He values peace and non-violence, and therefore that is how he does things. He believes in peace and non-violence and therefore he organizes peaceful marches, and sit-ins. Most leaders do not achieve the level of leadership excellence as king did, because of their lack in understanding of the forcefulness of peaceful resistance. His methods forced many states to adopt changes and integration. The president of the United States of America, also had to take notice because of the respectability King put into the Civil-Rights movement. For his actions on behalf of peace he received the highest and most recognizable award in the world for his work and achievements. In December of 1964 King received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway for his outstanding work in the American Civil Rights movement.

Every great leader have most of the same qualities and values that make up their character. Martin Luther King was well known for his excellence in leadership. There is always some parts of a leader’s character that prevent them from achieving a level of leadership excellence. They usually consist of such character flaws such as greed, egoism, and illusion. King’s absence of these qualities are the reason why he became well known for his leadership excellence.

King was brought up very modestly. His parents taught him the value of the church and to use it as an instrument for improving the lives of African-Americans. Throughout Martin’s triumphant mission for social change he never let greed come into his mind. He had his mind clearly set on his purpose, which was to promote equal justice for everyone and never strayed from his mission. With the church being such a predominant fixture in his life, it kept him devoted to serving fellow man. There is no doubt that King could have profited substantially more off his popularity and achievements, but he chose to give back to the movement that he believed in.

King was a true leader in the fact that he never let his egoism impair his judgment and decisions. He was never one to be overly concerned with trying to impress others, rather he was only concerned with the well-being of his fellow man. He said:

The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.

The statement epitomizes his character in the fact that he was only concerned with helping others, and contributing positively to society. He believed that no matter what job it was that you did, you should do it and do it to the best of your abilities.

Illusion, like egoism and greed was not a part of the character of King. He set his mind clearly on his objective and stayed faithful to it. He was never lead on by illusion and it did not interfere with his judgments. Martin Luther King Jr., is a man to admire for his true leadership excellence and also for the content of his character.

The virtuous character of, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been shown by the high moral values he lived by. Other aspects of the excellence of his character and leadership are evident in the following: his personality, goals, attitudes, perception, self-esteem, habits, managerial style, identity, vision, choice, and behaviour.

Personality develops early in all of us. MLK King (was called MLK by his childhood friends) was shaped by being black in a white supremacist society. At a young age he was determined to change things. In his academic endeavours and desires he appeared to be a very serious pers

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