Happy Birthday Martin Luther King Jr.

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time…”

“- the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.” A path of peace as the only path leading into our future lies in these words by Martin Luther King Jr.  Back in 1964, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, these words were as true as they are today. Being awarded for his nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice and his fight for civil rights, his blazing acceptance speech promoted not just peace and the believe in a non-violent change but depicted his strong conviction that mankind will wake up from its “starless midnight of racism and war”. Besides battling racism and injustice with words and love he campaigned for a world free from weapons of all kind. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, King grew up to continue his grandfather’s tenure as a pastor. While attending segregated public schools he experienced social injustice and civil right violations in his early years.  As a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in December 1955, he accepted to take the lead in the 382 days bus boycott that led to the Supreme Court declaration declaring laws requiring segregation on buses unconstitutional. In the years between 1957 and 1968 he supported protests and marches and held various speeches, with his most famous one being “l Have a Dream” which was held in Washington, B.C., in 1968 (see IPB statement to the 50th anniversary of this speech). In all his work and travels he derived his ideas from Christianity and fought with the operational techniques from Gandhi. And while his struggle for justice earned him five honorary degrees and the title Man of the year in 1963, he nevertheless was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times, with himself and his home being targeted by opponents.

When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he was only thirty-five years old and therefore the youngest man to have received the prize. Its prize money of $54,123 was announced to be turned over to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.

King was fighting to end to racial injustice but also became a world figure for civil rights and the peaceful fight for a world without violence. Underlined by the Nobel Committee he was the first in the western world to prove how a peaceful change for a better and more just society can be made.

Today, 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Tennessee, his acceptance speech still flourishes from images of hope and encourages us to believe in change and work for a peaceful world, because “peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.”