By Richard Jones
People tend to celebrate or castigate Martin Luther King, Jr., with moderation conspicuous only by its absence. Most devotees speak of him as though he was perfect, and many detractors speak against him as though he was pathetic.
When they dare speak to each other, they often "dualogue" and demean one another rather than engage in meaningful and mutually edificial dialogue about the extraordinary contributions this ever-so-hu-man of faith made to the Black struggle for freedom, power, prosperity, and peace.
That is unfortunate because, as is usually the case with famous people, carefully integrating hagiographic and heteromorphous images of King can actually help one form a more realistic and even refreshing idea of what he was like and all about. As a Christian, in fact, his life is reminiscent of certain heroes of the faith whose collective claim to fame was that God performed mighty works in and through them despite themselves.
Like ancient Israel’s King David, for example, who gained the reputation as a man after God’s own heart, Martin Luther King was also subject and susceptible to the same passions, perplexities, personal problems, and poignant contradictions as the rest of us who are members of fallen humanity.
Yet, like the prophet Elias, when King prayed and protested against the tsunamic flood of injustice unleashed by racist attitudes and actions, it was as though he was summoning all of heavenkind as well as humankind to help him dam and diminish the deluge of racial discrimination, deprivation, desecration, and devaluation that was claiming the liveliness, livelihood, and actual lives of people of African descent.
He was not a saint or just a sinner, but a real hu-man who dealt with deeply personal issues and challenges in addition to grave social issues. Yes, he was a Black activist confronting, conquering, and sometimes simply coping with his own shortcomings even while working indefatigably to stem the calamitous tide of systemic racism in this country.
Thus, he is a Black American hero not because he had a halo, but because he was strong and sagacious enough to look beyond his own faults and see our nation’s dire need for revolutionary love, respect, equal opportunity, and perennial application of the philosophy of non-violence.
He never would have had a wonderful influence on anyone or anything if, like far too many potentially great people, he had been incapacitated by his imperfection rather than driven by his dream. Thankfully, however, he gave the best of himself regardless of what he or anyone else thought of the rest of him.
It is disingenuous to dismiss him as a charlatan, and it is an insult to his noble ideals to condone his indiscretions. However, it is wise to learn from him to stay humble and keep growing regardless of our accomplishments.
His life also shows that we do not have to be perfect to maintain a positive and powerful presence in our world. Rather than hoard our gifts until we fancy ourselves to have it all together, we can grow even as you go forth doing great things with our lives. Besides, greater maturity and strength of character are good things that come not to those who just wait, but to those who make such progress a courageous, lifetime pursuit.
richard jones (www.iamrj.com) is a writer living in Detroit, Michigan.
Copyright (c) 2005 richard jones. All rights reserved. For the author’s reprint policy, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.