There is nothing hidden about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life works and accomplishments from the American and even international public. A man who continues to be honored long after his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. changed American history without waging a single battle let alone massacres or wars. His peaceful approach to obtaining change in society was threatening to the opponents and continues to be applauded presently, becoming an inspiration for countless. There are many facts about King’s qualifications and family known to the vast public such as his occupation and education. The highest degree King earned was a PhD from Boston University and he was the Baptist pastor for his town of Montgomery, where he was eventually elected to lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott against Black discrimination. However, the other side of the story, Martin’s side, remains hidden and few have explored it.
During an interview at the start of his career, Martin Luther King, Jr. reacted to the prestige he received in Montgomery by saying, “I was surprised to be elected…both from the standpoint of my age, but more from the fact that I was a newcomer to Montgomery.” Overshadowed by humility and humbleness, King’s inner emotions and personal reactions are seldom focused on as they become lost in the larger concentration of the Black civil rights movement. At the age of twenty-six, King was well aware of his lack of experience and expertise, even though in the eyes of the world, he was well-qualified. Such wisdom and humility is not often seen in twenty-six year old men these days and these traits helped King stand out from others. Even though he did not know his capabilities, others around him saw his leadership prospective and were loyal to him.
As the young pastor slowly took over his new responsibilities, he faced life’s harsh realities closely for the first time. From the outside, people looked up to him as inspiration and motivation, always looking to hear encouraging words; however, King was fighting personal battles inside, trying to overcome the fear he felt. The author writes, “King later wrote, he became ‘possessed by fear’ that he would not be able to carry it off and ‘obsessed by a feeling of inadequacy.’” The fear increased when King was arrested for the first time over a false accusation of breaking the speed limit while driving. Seeing the lies and injustices by the whites firsthand, King thought of the worst that could happen to him: lynching. After the arrest, he admitted his fear for his family’s safety and his own life.
Fans and critics will both find it surprising that King was ready to put up his hands and give up on the fight against segregation because of this fear. Behind the encouraging and strong exterior, there was simply a worried husband, father, son who wanted to go back to the good old days of his childhood and stay away from all the worries around him. Yes, there were threatening phone calls and mail which frightened King, but he overcame his emotions for the larger good, not letting anyone see his weakness and fear because he was scared people’s spirits would fall. His secret ingredient to getting up again was prayer.
Fighting his fears, Martin turned to someone he was completely sure about and had faith in this time of uncertainty: God. In front of his Creator, he was vulnerable and honest: “Lord, I must confess that I’m weak…I can’t let people see me like this because if they see me weak…they will begin to get weak.” Through prayer, King was always able to recharge his battery and become his community’s strength. When the time came for public appearances, people could not see even a hint of fear on his face and when reporters asked him if he was afraid, King confidently replied, “No, I’m not. My attitude is that this is a great cause.” However, King’s humane and realistic side, which makes it easier for others to relate to him, was always there and he always admitted to it during calmer times. He was a father who worried about his new born daughter and a loyal husband trying to protect his wife. The challenges grew after each success towards desegregation and Martin had to travel across the country to inspire other states.
Thinking that he would finally get a break from the tensions, Martin Luther King, Jr. moved his family to Atlanta, Georgia. However, even though his weaker side was telling him to look for ease and comfort, his philosophy as a man of God was that a person will always receive what he intends for, which means that one has to make pure intentions. Again, King raised himself up to be strong and made the intention that he would actively help the civil rights movement in Atlanta. He said, “I will be involved on a larger scale…History has thrust something upon me from which I cannot turn away.” Arriving in Georgia, King immediately became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, making his schedule even more hectic. Throughout the next few years, the civil rights movement gained attention and many victories, all headed by Martin Luther King. King won many awards, including the Nobel Prize, which he would dedicate to the movement instead of claiming his personal hard work.
Looking at King’s inner struggle again, he was getting exhausted and wanted a break. King told his community at one point that he did not want to march anymore, and he was only doing it because it was his duty to his followers. Again, he turned to religion for comfort and help, so he would not fall in front of his followers emotionally or physically. He started looking at everything from a religious perspective and accepted his duties as responsibilities given by God and his destiny. When he advised people through his lectures on finding peaceful solutions to problems, it was almost as if he was comforting himself and reminding himself about his greater goal of ending discrimination. He advised his followers to have faith and be patient, “One must take up his cross…and carry it until that cross leaves its mark upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only through suffering.”
Another character weakness or flaw that bothered King was his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was once again torn into two different directions and struggled in the secrecy of his home and mind. He publically wanted to speak out against the unjust war, but also had to think about how the Black civil rights movement would be affected if he took a political stand. In this instance, Martin Luther King, Jr. only listened to his heart and did not hide his inner struggles from the public, for the first time showing his weaker side. He publically stated, “At times you do things to satisfy your conscience, and they may be altogether unrealistic or wrong, but you feel better.”
Though Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced a short-life (he was 39 years old when he died), his life was extremely valuable and changed history. Accomplishing the unthinkable integration in America after the civil rights movement, King had gained a reputation of being the strong-willed, inspiring role model and leader who was loved by all. However, in his mind, there were many flaws in his character and identity and those who knew him closely admitted that he always criticized himself harshly, always trying to reach the next goal in life, always trying to go from better to best. Even though everyone makes mistakes and feels fear, King was different from everyone because he kept his weaknesses to himself, never giving anyone the opportunity to attack his secrets and pull down the entire Black community morale with them. His wife, Coretta Scott King remembered after his death and revealed King’s secret to success: self-evaluation. She said, “He criticized himself more severely than anyone else ever did…he would go through this agonizing process of self-analysis many times.” The best lesson one can achieve from King’s life is that there should be a balance in life, and in order to realize the purpose of life, one must realize one’s responsibilities to oneself, God, and to the rest of society.