Martin Luther King Jr.
Born: January 15, 1929
Died: April 4, 1968
At Marquette University I teach a course on Martin Luther King’s ethics and faith. I face two obstacles when teaching about King. The first is that we are too acquainted with him. We know so much about him that we think there is little left for his life to teach us. The other obstacle in teaching about King is what I call the “pedestal effect.” King is a mythic figure, so much larger than life and so heroic in stature that most of us feel we have no chance of achieving a fraction of his accomplishments. The fact that he relentlessly advocated—and constantly practiced!—nonviolent responses to insult, humiliation, and injury is something we can sincerely admire and yet conveniently dismiss. He is almost superhuman, beyond our range and reach. So we sigh longingly, waiting for God to raise up “another King” to rescue us from our worst selves as a nation. Until recently I also admired King in a way that renders him safely irrelevant. What changed was my own experience of breaking the silence for the sake of justice.
More about Martin Luther King Jr.:
King and I: Martin Luther King Jr.
It was in recognizing the humble humanity of this heroic figure that I was propelled to speak out against injustice.
How Martin Luther King Jr.’s prayer life moved him to act for justice
Without an appreciation of King’s faith, our understanding of the man and the movement that transformed America is both limited and inadequate.
Image: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Photo by Philip N. Cohen, Wikimedia Commons