Martin Luther King Jr.: more than “the dream”

Dallas Wabbington, Reporter


As we take this Martin Luther King Jr. Day to recognize a pioneer in the civil rights movement, we do so amidst some of the worst political and racial tension the nation has seen in a very long time. It has never been more important to learn about Reverend King and view his teachings through the lens of modern society.

A lot of the messages he (MLK) left behind would definitely resonate with today. Sometimes I think people limit him to ‘the dream’ and believe in ‘post civil rights’ [as if] we got there, which is absolutely not the case as we’ve noticed the past summer of 2020 with protests and riots and debates about police brutality,” Cammie Dean, director of MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center, said. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in a time of segregated schools and society. He grew up in Atlanta graduated a segregated high school at the age of 15. King then went to Morehouse College, where he earned his BA in sociology before going on to be awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree then his PhD in Systematic Theology. King would go on to become a pastor and a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. King promoted nonviolence and strongly believed in peaceful protests, as seen by the bus boycott he lead to promote desegregation. During this boycott, King was arrested, his house was bombed and both he and his family faced extreme personal abuse, but his efforts ultimately influenced the Supreme Court decision to declare segregation on buses unconstitutional.

“Dr. King taught patience peace and persistence and I think that those teachings can and are being applied today. There are people from all ages and backgrounds taking an active role in changing their communities and our country,” Gabby Wright, psychology senior and member of Black Student Union, said.

Between 1957 and 1968, King travelled all over the country and gave speeches about injustice, protest and a call to action. He led a large protest in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 which included marches and sit-ins against racism. The protest and King’s famous letter “Letter from Birmingham Jail” following his arrest caught the attention of the world. The letter called for unity and explained that people have a responsibility to take direct action against injustice. Following his release from jail, King directed a peaceful march in Washington D.C. of 250,000 people and delivered his famous speech “I Have a Dream,” which emphasized racial equality and King’s belief that someday people would be judged by their character rather than their skin color. These actions were a heavy contribution to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On April 4, 1968, before King was to lead a protest march for sanitation workers in Tennessee, he was shot and killed on the balcony of his motel room by James Earl Ray. King’s death sparked riots and protests across the country in more than 100 cities, much like those that continue as a response to the senseless killings of Black lives.

“A lot of people don’t know about what he had to say beyond ‘the dream.’ Beyond ‘the dream,’ he talked a great deal about both the benefits and the risks of capitalism and the particular type of materialism that drives exploitation of lower classes and for countries of militarization, inside and outside the country. [He spoke of] the importance of being actively engaged, civically and politically, because it was a system that he believed in. Though he knew there was work to do, to make it work the way it should. I think there were a lot of things he said that would apply to today,” Dean said. 

In these times of uncertainty, violence and hate, MLKJ serves as a reminder of what can be achieved when one persists for justice to make the world a better place.

“I am not sure what he would think of the country because I’m obviously not him but I do think that he would encourage us to be persistent in fighting for what we believe in because It is our responsibility to advocate for the world that we want,” Wright said.


  • MLK earned 20 honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the world in his lifetime, including Doctor of Laws from Yale University.
  • He was named “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine in 1963.
  • In 1964, MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the the youngest man and third Black man awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Years after his death, MLK earned a Grammy for Best Spoken Recording for his speech “Why I oppose the war in Vietnam” in 1970.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday in 1983 and all states made the day a state government holiday by 2000.