Martin Luther King Jr. and AfricaRachel Jones
Martin Luther King is, obviously, known for what he worked for in the United States. What is not as widely known about King is his passion for justice on a global scale, particularly regarding Africa. He had a dream, and it was broader than Montgomery, Alabama. Broader than the South. Broader than the entire North American continent.
During the 1950s and 1960s more and more African nations were shaking off colonialist powers and beginning to raise their own flags of independence (Djibouti didn’t gain independence from France until 1977) and King was a strong supporter of these movements. His dream of freedom and equality crossed oceans.
In 1957 he received a personal invitation from Prime Minister Kwame Nkuramah to the celebration of Ghana’s independence. In 1960, he attended the inauguration of Nigeria’s Nnamdi Azikiwe. He spoke vehemently against apartheid in South Africa during a stop en route to Oslo where he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize. During his trip to Nigeria, he spoke with newly appointed leaders of independent nations and leaders in nations still working toward independence.
“…they are saying in no uncertain terms that racism and colonialism must go for they see the two are based on the same principle, a sort of contempt for life, and a contempt for human personality.”
After visiting Ghana, King gave a sermon called “The Birth of a Nation” in which he describes the ceremony, the speeches given by new leaders who dressed not in fancy suits or robes but in their prison clothes, the lowering of the Union Jack flag, and the raising of Ghana’s own flag. King felt a deep understanding. He knew.
“…I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.”
He also knew independence doesn’t come easy, it is not without cost. King had no illusions and urged people to continue pressing on, to work, to not expect freedom to be simply handed over. To not expect privileged classes to relinquish that privilege without resistance but to maintain a steadfast spirit of nonviolence.
“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence however, are emptiness and bitterness. This is the thing I’m concerned about. Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace, but let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle.”
Martin Luther King fought for freedom and equality on American soil, and he supported those who would fight for it across the globe, especially in Africa. His dream was not a dream for America alone, but a dream for all people. He refused to accept colonialism, racism, exploitation, and oppression wherever he saw it.
In a world where there are more slaves than there have ever been before, when millions of women and children are missing’ from population statistics, when privileged nations continue to promote government policies that oppress others, when people want cheap chocolate at the expense of a child’s freedom, Martin Luther King’s words are as powerful today as they were then.
“There seems to be a throbbing desire, there seems to be an internal desire for freedom within the soul of every man. And it’s there — it might not break forth in the beginning, but eventually it breaks out. Men realize that freedom is something basic, and to rob a man of his freedom is to take from him the essential basis of his manhood. To take from him his freedom is to rob him of something of God’s image.”
And Kings’ marching orders in the 50’s and 60’s and our marching orders are still ours.
“…to break down the bondage and the walls of colonialism, exploitation, and imperialism, to break them down to the point that no man will trample over another man, but that all men will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality.”
This is a legacy that spans generations and crosses borders.
Happy Martin Luther King Day, from Djibouti (in Africa) to Minnesota (in the United States).
Let us, on every continent and of every color, continue to dream.
*click here to read about Why You Should Care Where Your Coffee Comes From, a related Babble post by Kristy Carlson