Martin Luther King

One of the world’s best known advocates of non-violent social change
strategies, Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), synthesized ideals drawn from many
different cultural traditions. Recent studies of him emphasize the extent to
which his ideals were rooted in African-American religious traditions which were
then shaped by his education. The image of a social activist and leader was the
result of extensive formal education, strong personal values and licit ethics.

This excellence in leadership can be traced to his character which is shaped by
his moral values and personality. We look at MLK and these traits to reveal the
rationalization of his rise to transracial leadership in our society. Through
studying the life and example of Martin Luther King, Jr., we learn that his
moral values of integrity, love, truth, fairness, caring, non-violence,
achievement and peace were what motivated him. King is not great because he is
well known, he is great because he served as the cause of peace and justice for
all humans. King is remembered for his humanity, leadership and his love of his
fellow man regardless of skin color. This presence of strong moral values
developed King’s character which enabled him to become one of the most
influential leaders of our time. Integrity is a central value in a leader’s
character and it is through integrity that King had vision of the truth. The
truth that one day this nation would live up to the creed, "all men are
created equal". No man contributed more to the great progress of blacks during
the 1950’s and 1960’s than Martin Luther King, Jr. He was brought up
believing "one man can make a difference", and this is just what he did.

Integrity has a large effect on what we think, say and do, it is through

King’s thoughts and actions that enabled so many people to have trust and
faith in him. Through King’s integrity he believed that America, the most
powerful and richest nation in the world will lead the way to a revolution of
values. This revolution will change the way society views itself, shifting from
a "thing-orientated" society to a "person-orientated" society. When this
occurs, King believed that racism will be capable of being conquered and this
nation will be "Free at last." King’s unconditional love for all humans
was another value that strongly influenced his character and allowed him to have
such excellent leadership ability. King described his meaning of love in one of
his many speeches, "A Time to Break Silence": " When I speak of love I am
not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force
which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of
life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate
reality." King has been considered an extremist which he was not sure how to
deal with at first. After careful consideration he believed that if he were to
be called an extremist for love, it could only be taken as a compliment and he
came to the realization that the world was in dire need for more extremists.

King did not want to be remembered after his death by his Nobel Peace Prize or
his many other awards, he wanted people to say "...that Martin Luther King,

Jr., tried to love somebody...And I want you to say that I tried to love and
save humanity". Even when his own life and the life of his family was
threatened, King did not react with hatred or violence, he found more strength
and courage and told his fellow men, "I want you to love your enemies. Be good
to them. Love them and let them know you love them." Therefore, King’s love
for the human race led him to focus his ministry and speeches in obedience to

Jesus Christ, who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them. King’s
ability to speak the truth is another value that made him such an influential
leader. This ability is one reason why King was asked to be the leader of so
many important protest marches and sit-ins. His mother was aware of King’s
ability to speak the truth very early in his life, "He drew people to him from
the very first moment by his eloquence, his sincerity, and his moral stature".

King’s followers believed that he would speak nothing but the truth but in

King’s famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail", he could only hope that what
he had written will be seen as the truth: "If I have said anything in this
letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg
you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and
indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than
brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me." King also believed that all people
should be treated with equality and fairness and this became the basis for the

Civil Rights Movement of which King was the leader of. This fairness is one
value that allowed King’s followers to have so much respect for him, for some,
he was more than a man, "The young people just envisioned a new hope and a new
day, and the old folks saw in him a black Jesus. They used to love to call him
‘My Boy’ or ‘My Son’. They worshipped him". King’s followers felt
this way about him because they had never before been treated with such
fairness, they had never had anything to equal this in their whole lifetime. He
lifted them so high that they could not help but think that he was an act sent
to them from God. It is obvious that King’s character was strongly influenced
by his caring and compassion for all human beings, regardless of skin color.

King’s ability to show how he cared for his fellow man was evident in the way
he was able to get deeply into the hearts of people through his famous speeches.

King cared so much for his people that during 1963 he traveled about 275 000
miles and made more than 350 speeches in his efforts to reach his fellow men. It
is through his caring and inner strength that King has made himself "the
unchallenged voice of the Negro people - and the disquieting conscience of the
whites". King’s fight for justice was perhaps the most significant values
that made him one of the most influential leaders of all time. He believed that
one day justice will prevail for blacks as is seen in most famous speech of all
time, the speech, " I Have a Dream": "I have a dream that one day even the
state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and
oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice." King
wanted to see justice prevail and he and many of his follower felt that it did
in the signing of the 1964 and 1968 Civil Rights Act. Blacks now had many rights
that they were previously refused, they now had the right to vote, access public
accommodations, and racial discrimination was prohibited in the sale or rental
of housing. With this King was one step closer to seeing that this nation can
live up to the creed, "all men are created equal". King believed in his
fight for justice so strongly that he described himself as follows: "If you
want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice;
say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness".

Non-violence is a very important moral value that shapes the character of any
great leader. This is by far one of the strongest attributes which enabled him
to reach his plateau of leadership excellence. King was an advocate of
non-violent means of achieving civil rights reform. He had a very clear and
concise idea of what he wanted to achieve and how to achieve it. Non-violence
was the major driving force behind his plans. King was very much aware of the
power of non-violent tactics in an attempt for social changes. President Kennedy
gave respect to the movement and reacted to protests in Birmingham by agreeing
to submit broad civil rights legislation to Congress, which eventually passed
the Civil Rights Act of 1964. King had modeled his philosophy on that of

Mohandas Gandhi, who is one of the worlds greatest advocates of non-violent
resistance. During his meeting with Gandhi he became more convinced than ever
that non-violent resistance was the most powerful weapon for oppressed people in
their struggle for freedom. He voiced his beliefs of non-violent resistance in
his "I have a dream", speech which has become, for good reason, one of the
worlds most memorable speeches of our time. He said: The true meaning of a man
is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convince, but how he stands at
times of controversy and challenge. We must not allow our creative protests to
degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic
heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The dynamics of this moral
value of non-violence are very evident in the make up of Martin Luther King

Jr.’s character. This is why this tactic of active non-violence (sit-ins,
protest marches) had put civil-right squarely on the national agenda, and this
is also why Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil-rights leader is known
for his leadership excellence. King’s lifetime achievement is one for the
record books. This moral value (achievement) is one that is key to any great
leader. It shapes the character of the individual, and the drive for achievement
maps out the plan of success and leadership excellence. His remarkable
achievement started in school. He was not motivated by fame and fortune, but by
the personal satisfaction knowing that he was making a positive impact in the
life of others. He graduated with a bachelor of divinity degree, as
valedictorian and student body president. He then went on to be awarded a
doctorate from Boston University. He was not a person that was content with what
he had accomplished, he was motivated for a higher level of achievement. This is
when he became a prominent American civil-rights leader. King’s effectiveness
in achieving his objectives was limited not merely by divisions among blacks,
however, but not also by the increasing resistance he encountered from national
political leaders. At the time of his death he did not achieve everything that
he set forth to do, but he did reach legendary status for his achievements in
his quest for equal justice for everyone in America. Any individual in history
who has been set apart by their leadership excellence all have in common the
value of peace. Mohandas Gandhi, who is one of our greatest leaders of our time
has peace and non-violence as his greatest attributes. King was one of

Gandhi’s greatest admirers. King learned of the importance of peace as an
important value for leadership qualities from Gandhi. This is shown through his
insistence of non-violent tactics in the struggle for equal justice. The values
of non-violence and peace are very much intertwined . Both are key elements of

King’s character and actions. His actions are a result of his values. He
values peace and non-violence, and therefore that is how he does things. He
believes in peace and non-violence and therefore he organizes peaceful marches,
and sit-ins. Most leaders do not achieve the level of leadership excellence as
king did, because of their lack in understanding of the forcefulness of peaceful
resistance. His methods forced many states to adopt changes and integration. The
president of the United States of America, also had to take notice because of
the respectability King put into the Civil-Rights movement. For his actions on
behalf of peace he received the highest and most recognizable award in the world
for his work and achievements. In December of 1964 King received the Nobel Peace

Prize in Oslo, Norway for his outstanding work in the American Civil Rights
movement. Every great leader have most of the same qualities and values that
make up their character. Martin Luther King was well known for his excellence in
leadership. There is always some parts of a leader’s character that prevent
them from achieving a level of leadership excellence. They usually consist of
such character flaws such as greed, egoism, and illusion. King’s absence of
these qualities are the reason why he became well known for his leadership
excellence. King was brought up very modestly. His parents taught him the value
of the church and to use it as an instrument for improving the lives of

African-Americans. Throughout Martin’s triumphant mission for social change he
never let greed come into his mind. He had his mind clearly set on his purpose,
which was to promote equal justice for everyone and never strayed from his
mission. With the church being such a predominant fixture in his life, it kept
him devoted to serving fellow man. There is no doubt that King could have
profited substantially more off his popularity and achievements, but he chose to
give back to the movement that he believed in. King was a true leader in the
fact that he never let his egoism impair his judgment and decisions. He was
never one to be overly concerned with trying to impress others, rather he was
only concerned with the well-being of his fellow man. He said: The quality, not
the longevity, of one’s life is what is important. The statement epitomizes
his character in the fact that he was only concerned with helping others, and
contributing positively to society. He believed that no matter what job it was
that you did, you should do it and do it to the best of your abilities.

Illusion, like egoism and greed was not a part of the character of King. He set
his mind clearly on his objective and stayed faithful to it. He was never lead
on by illusion and it did not interfere with his judgments. Martin Luther King

Jr., is a man to admire for his true leadership excellence and also for the
content of his character. The virtuous character of, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
has been shown by the high moral values he lived by. Other aspects of the
excellence of his character and leadership are evident in the following: his
personality, goals, attitudes, perception, self-esteem, habits, managerial
style, identity, vision, choice, and behaviour. Personality develops early in
all of us. MLK King (was called MLK by his childhood friends) was shaped by
being black in a white supremacist society. At a young age he was determined to
change things. In his academic endeavours and desires he appeared to be a very
serious person, but he enjoyed socialising. He had friends [some white], danced,
and played sports. Dr. King was a charismatic leader. He spoke with eloquence,
authority, and assurance. With his natural leadership qualities it is only
fitting that he soon found himself in that role. His leadership was not limited
to speaking from a podium, i.e. taxied people during bus boycotts in Montgomery,

Alabama in 1955-56. *censored*From childhood he was grounded in the idea of a
personal God. He believed in the dignity and worth of all humans. During his
post-graduate years, he became most influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and his idea of
non-violent resistance. Due to differences in situations, it was uncertain
whether the same tactics would work, i.e. in India, the majority was in support
of Gandhi where in the United States the black population is a minority.

Personality develops and grows with us but Dr. King never lost focus of his
goals. One of his childhood goals was realised as he began his ministry and
public speaking; that was to speak with eloquence and , " big words". He
preached a social gospel to fulfil his dream of a just society for all:

"...the church must incessantly raise its voice in prophetic warning against
the social evils in all the institutions of the day. The church must not try to
be a state or an economic order, but remaining in its own role as conserver and
voice of the state and the economic order. In all its judgements it must avoid
even the appearance of being one organisation competing for power and prestige
among other organisations. Its peculiar power lies not in self-seeking but in
searching for truth and justice and peace for all, in the spirit of Jesus

Christ. For this, too, is part of being "first" by being "slave of all".

Dr. King knew from personal experience and looking around at others that
confidence needed to replace fear and pride replace humiliation. In order to do
this there had to be desegregation in the southern states. Whites and coloured
people should be able to sit anywhere on public transit on a first come first
served basis. Blacks should not have to give up their seats to whites. White and
coloured signs should come down from public washrooms and fountains. Blacks
should be served at all lunch counters and restaurants and hotels. Other goals
included programs for the poor and not just blacks but all, and work for the
unemployed. All these gaols were to be obtained without violence, by peaceful
civil disobedience. He told his followers to meet violence with non-violence. He
did not wish to have people hurt on either side of the issue. His hope was to
redeem the white majority from the evil of their ways. "We Shall Overcome"-
and they did overcome! There was desegregation in many areas in most southern
states. Poverty was reduced and employment increased. Dr. King had attitudes
that guided him. He believed in human dignity, individuality, and community.

What was his attitude toward his fellow man? He believed in agape, a love for
all men. He believed people are basically good and will change from their evil
ways once they are shown and taught the difference. MLK was courteous. As a
child he would," turn the other cheek", showing even then a preference for
non-violence. In all that he did, Martin Luther King, Jr. was not afraid. He did
not fear physical harm or what men might say. But injustice angered him.

"Justice too long delayed is justice denied". An unjust law is contrary to

God’s moral law. Therefore, it is not wrong to stand opposed to such laws, or
to find oneself in prison for disobeying immoral laws. His aim was not to break
the law, but to change it. Dr. King was disappointed that most white churches
did not support the cause of their black brothers and sisters. Although,
statements by national agencies of various denominations denounced segregation,
the local congregations often supported the status quo. In regard to perception,

Dr. King was able to see the powerful combination of Christian love and
non-violence. He knew the importance of religion to the black southern
community. He was able to accept and adopt wise counsel, i.e. in choosing to be
a preacher. From the pulpit he could reach the people. MLK was well aware of

Negro stereotypes and in college made pains to avoid such labels being attached
to him. As he grew in understanding of humanity he knew to speak to individuals
on a one to one basis to get a truer picture of them and the situation. There
were times when Dr. King found himself between two extremes. On one hand, those
who had given up ever seeing a change in the way things were. They would accept
the status quo and live without the respect all humans deserve. On the other
hand, were militant groups, i.e. Black Power Movement, who believed in violence
to achieve their goals. Martin Luther viewed moderate white people as a
stumbling block as they were anxious for order but not necessarily justice.

Peace to whites often meant suppression of black people. Dr. King could see the,

"big picture", of the political climate. He realised the effectiveness of
white brutality to the black cause as the American public was shocked and
horrified as they viewed on television. Then they and the government were moved
to action. Dr. King’s self-esteem is surrounded by love, growth, character,
values, achievement, meaning, and self-actualisation. From childhood he knew his
value as a human being made in the image of God. He believed in, "loving
oneself, loving one’s neighbour, and loving God". Still there was the
tension of being black and knowing he was equal while being treated as a lesser
human being. Martin Luther had doubts like anyone. He held up under amazing
odds. How long could his people continue to suffer on the marches? But he was
not moved by lies, i.e. attempts to separate he and his wife. His faith was in

God and did not fear what men could do to him. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
developed habits that contributed to his success. From a very young age he read
and was more advanced intellectually. He finished highschool by age 15. As
mentioned, church was important. He was deliberate and patient in his endeavours,
disciplined and hard working. Dr. King was well-read in the history of his
people as well as in great literature, philosophies, etc. He developed his
oratory skills. He lead many marches and went willingly to jail to further
freedom for his people. Being organised, he became the first president of the ,

Southern Christian Leadership Conference [SCLC] and remained president until his
death. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) was a born leader but more importantly an
excellent manager of his people. This is observed as early as 1955 when blacks
launched a boycott against the city of Montgomery by refusing to obey the
city’s rules mandating segregation on buses. The group elected MLK as
president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association. He was able to
motivate, transform and adapt to situations with his followers and lead them to
success with the Montgomery Improvement Association. This was not to be his last
position as a leader of many people. He also founded the Southern Christian

Leadership Conference and was their president in 1957. The list of his
accomplishments go on and on and an entire paper can be written on these and we
will only make reference to these to give evidence of his leadership, character
and ethics. There are certain traits that make MLK a great leader which are
directly consanguine to his managerial skills. It is difficult to be a great
leader without great managerial skills. Most prominent in MLK’s Life as a
leader is his way with words. His speech’s and sermons were the fuel for the
smoldering coals to ignite the people that followed him and his beliefs. He
spoke creatively and cleverly and at the same time was diplomatic and tactful
which is evident in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the 1957 Prayer

Pilgrimage for Freedom. His actions demonstrated his dependability, desire to
influence others, persistency and high energy level. All of which were eminent
in his book Stride Towards Freedom which he published in 1958 and ambitious
action in touring India to increase his knowledge of Gandhian non-violent
philosophies. Although portrayed as the pre-eminent black spokesperson, MLK did
not mobilize mass protest activity during the first few years after the

Montgomery boycott. He moved cautiously launching a wave of sit-in protests
during the winter and spring of 1960 showing that he was knowledgeable of the
task as a whole, was well organized and willing to assume responsibility.

MLK’s identity was known all to well in North America and is attributed to his
many books, speeches and writings. During the year following the March, MLK
renown grew as he became Time magazines Man of the Year and then in 1964 was the
recipient of the Nobel Peace prize. Despite all the fame and accolades MLK faced
many challenges to his leadership. However MLK’s effectiveness in achieving
his objectives was not limited and after achieving his objectives in Albany, MLK
recognized the need to organize his protests in order to better represent his
people and to strengthen their organization. Much of his identity was formed by
his father. At a very early age MLK resented religious emotionalism and often
questioned literal interpretations of scripture, but he always greatly admired
black social gospel proponents such as his father who always viewed the church
as an instrument for improving the lives of African American. President of

Morehouse College Benjamin Mays further shaped his identity by influencing him
to become a minister and serve society. His continued skepticism led him towards
theological studies at Crozer Theological Seminar in Chester Pennsyvania and at

Boston University where he received his doctorate in systematic theology in

1955. All of which were commensurate to his identity that is most evident in his
famous "I have a dream" oration. Even after his death MLK, his identity and
his beliefs have remained a controversial symbol of the African American civil
rights struggle, revered by many for his sacrifice on behalf of non violence and
condemned by others for his militancy and revolutionary views. A crucial period
in MLK’s deliberations about his career came during the summer of 1947, wed he
led religious services for his fellow student workers at a tobacco farm in

Simsbury, Connecticut. Even before leaving Atlanta he had received his preaching
license. After several weeks of deliberation, he telephoned his mother to tell
her of his intentions to become a minister. His initial inclination to become a
doctor or a lawyer was overwhelmed by an underlying urge to serve god and
humanity. He had made this decision through a culmination of experiences. "My
call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular," and he later wrote
in his application to seminary: It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by
some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it was a response
to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a
desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and commitment
could best be expressed through the ministry....I came to see that God had
placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the
more frustreted I would become. This statement best exemplifies the vision of

MLK not of what he planned to do in specifics but his life as a whole which led
to those accomplishments and his successful yet short lived career. One of

MLK’s most important as well as most difficult to proclaim is his ability to
choose. Choice is very difficult when one direction can lead you down while the
other can take to the top of the mountain. We feel that it was the
responsibility that he felt to his people that drove his choices. Other
influences included his religious beliefs that helped to guide his decision
making. All of his choices are very decisive and assertive to benefit and
further his ideals and vision. He also made sure that he was making the right
choice and once his mind was made up he let his self-confidence take over. This
can be seen with his choice to join the clergy. After many years of disputing
the views of his father, a minister, he had a vision that the best way to serve
the people was to become a pastor. In order to make choices we feel that being
able to adapt to situations is very important and this is a trait that is very
prominent in MLK’s life. It is difficult to find specific situations where MLK
made good and bad choices but any time a choice was made all possibilities were
always taken into effect and were made on behalf of the African American race in
the fight against segregation. Given the academic environment in which he
attended graduate school, it is not surprising that MLK’s behavior did not
explicitly draw upon the insights of African-American religion. Yet, his
graduate school writings understated the degree to which his behavior had been
shaped by African-American religion and its writings. MLK’s mental development
reflected his lifelong tendency to incorporate the best elements of each
alternative in his behavior. Most of his behavior could be witness in and
through his sermons. Such evidence can be seen as early as 1954 when he gave his

"Rediscovering Lost Values" sermon. He said: "The real problem is that
through our scientific genius we’ve failed made of the world a neighborhood,
but through our moral and spiritual genius we’ve failed to make it a
brotherhood." His behavior was in line with his values and beliefs and was
presented in accordance with the task at hand which at that time was the
importance of morals and ethical relativism in our society.


Ansbro, John J., Martin

Luther King, Jr., The Making of a Mind, 1982, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY.

Lowery, Linda, Martin Luther King Day 1987 Carolrhoda Book - Minneapolis,

Minnesota McPhee, Penelope; Schulke, Flip, King Remembered 1986 W.W. Norton&

Company, Inc. Washington, James M. , "I Have a Dream" , 1992, Harper San

Francisco Claybourne Carson, King’s Biography, 1996, Martin Luther King Jr.

Papers Project Paul E. Johnson, Martin Luther King jr. and the African-American

Social Gospel, 1996, Albert, Peter J. We Shall

Overcome, Da Capo Press, New York, 1993. Archer, Jules. They Had a Dream,

Penguin Books, New York, 1993. Schulke, Flip. King Remembered, Pocket Books, New

York, 1986. Washington, James M. I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that

Changed the World by Martin Luther King, Harper, San Fransisco, 1992.

Washington, James M. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Peaceful Warrior, Pocket

Books, New York, 1968