Sometimes I think I’ve already done something when I haven’t. I was reasonably sure that I’d written about Martin Luther King Jr. before. Apparently not. While I did write about Juneteenth last year, he wasn’t mentioned. Another post written for today has been discarded in the interest of peace. In this brief tribute, three pieces of information I hadn’t known are shared, also in the pursuit of peace.
First, when he was born, his father named him Michael, and still a junior, as that was his father’s name, but both were changed in 1934. A visit to Germany inspired his father to reflect Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer. The young King was something of a prodigy. He skipped the 9th and 12th grades of high school, entered college at 15, graduated at 19, and after wrestling with his heritage as the fourth in line in his family to become a pastor, entered seminary and became a Baptist preacher. For his work in human rights, he became the youngest person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Second, he was a Star Trek fan. That may sound trivial, but as someone who grew up with the idealism of that original show, I assure you it’s not. This incident recounts his encounter with Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, when she was planning to leave after the first season: “…a very influential Trekkie named Martin Luther King urged her to stay on the show. ‘He told me that Star Trek was one of the only shows that he and his wife Coretta would allow their little children to watch. And I thanked him and I told him I was leaving the show. All the smile came off his face. And he said, don’t you understand for the first time, we’re seen as we should be seen. You don’t have a black role. You have an equal role.’” It’s one of those amazing bits of trivia I would have never guessed.
Third, the “I Have a Dream Speech” could have ended much differently. Dr. King had written it carefully beforehand, but he was ending when the singer Mahalia Jackson called out to him “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” A more formal adviser had told him to leave that part out: King had used it before, and Wyatt Walker told him it was cliché. When you watch, the dream passage starts at 12:22. King looks up from his prepared notes and begins to preach from his heart. This speech has been called the most important of the 20th century. It’s worth your time. Mahalia Jackson would sing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” at King’s funeral. You can hear her here.
We each change every day. A friend last week told me about this gospel song, “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” There are many versions, but I like this one. Riveting. While none of us is likely to change the world as did MLK, we can change ourselves. These three bits of knowledge will add to understanding, but we can honor another human today by not inciting the negative. I did by not publishing a lesser piece today. It was only clever, not worthwhile.