Fifty years ago today, America was in a state of complete shock. Headlines everywhere read that the leader of one of America’s greatest movements was dead. April 4th, 1968 will forever be remembered as the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Fifty years later, his legacy lives on.
In my Honors American History course, we were required to read The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. by Clayborne Carson. The book is a collection of excerpts from interviews, speeches, and writings by Dr. King all compiled by the author to create a first person account in memory of the man who led the Civil Rights Movement. As a student who attended elementary through school in southeast Texas, I was very aware of the impact made by Martin Luther King Jr. However, this book taught me about many events that I had never heard of in which Martin Luther King witnessed or participated in.
Not Just an Average Preacher
The first few chapters of the book establish Dr. King’s early life and education. Growing up I was aware he was an educated man, but until reading this autobiography, I was not aware of just how educated and brilliant this man truly was. He attended Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University School of Theology . Dr. King was not a fan of the “emotional” church, and makes a remark regarding all of the ‘stomping and carrying on’ that took place in many churches:
“I often say that if we, as a people, had as much religion in our hearts and souls as we have in our legs and feet, we could change the world.” (15)
Martin Luther King Jr.’s education played a vital role in his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. First and foremost, within the walls of his schools is where he established his beliefs in nonviolence. He studied protest methods of Henry David Thoreau and Ghandi, and was inspired. There is yet another point to be made about the importance of Dr. King’s education. An educated person in a position of leadership is likely to be taken much more seriously than someone who is uneducated. There were many times when Dr. King had to strategize and plan boycotts or marches, many difficult decisions to be made, and lots of publicity and speaking with the media. One wrong move could have cost him the movement.
Unsuccessful Assassination Attempt
Martin Luther King Jr. was at a book signing when a woman named Izola Ware Curry approached him, told him she’d been looking for him, and stabbed him in the chest with a box cutter. This event nearly cost him his life.
When I read this section of the book, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve been through and graduated high school and never once heard of this event until my first year of college. The knife used was touching his aorta, and a simple sneeze or violent movement would have caused him to drown in his own blood. Based on the surprised reactions of my classmates, it is safe to assume that this part of Dr. King’s life isn’t really taught in many schools. Two facts regarding this event stuck out to me:
- The scar where King was stabbed and had an operation was in the shape of a cross after it healed up.
- A girl wrote a letter to him while he was in the hospital which stated:
“Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth grade student at the White Plains High School. While it shouldn’t matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your suffering. And I read that if you sneezed you would have died. I’m simply writing you to say that I’m glad you didn’t sneeze.”
King, Martin Luther., and Clayborne Carson. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.Intellectual Properties Management, 2009.