By David E. Miller
Every year, people of diverse backgrounds pay homage to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in celebrations that typically feature marches, recordings of King’s most famous speeches and ceremonies honoring community champions whose work exemplifies King’s desire for Black folks to achieve “equal protection under the law” and parity in America. Unfortunately for many, King’s life and legacy have become nothing more than a day off from work or a good sale at the local car dealership. Each year we see exaggerated memes on social media minimizing the blood, sweat and tears shed by King and a host of other freedom fighters.
King and his family will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of those fighting for liberation in a society that’s schizophrenic regarding justice and race. King’s convictions to non-violence and coalition building to achieve racial justice in America have become an international model lauded by universities and heads of state in many countries.
One seldom-discussed yet critical aspect of King’s multifaceted life is his role as a husband and father. While his persona was larger than life, he was a husband to Coretta, as well as an outstanding father to Yolanda, Martin III, Dexter and Bernice.
Like so many other leaders during his day, King sacrificed enormous family time to serve on the frontlines fighting freedom. At age 35, he became the youngest person to win a Nobel Peace Prize. A frugal man, King donated his $54, 600 prize winnings to the Civil Rights Movement. At the time of his assassination, King lived in a modest, brick, single-family home in Atlanta’s Vine City section, unlike many Black leaders today who live extravagant lifestyles and flaunt their opulence every chance they get.
King endured the bombing of his home in Montgomery, Alabama, being stabbed in Harlem and getting hit in the head with a brick in Chicago, all while raising a young family. These are a few examples of the personal sacrifices he made as he tried to improve life for others.
As the nation prepares to celebrate King, let us also celebrate Coretta for the unselfish way she shared her husband with the world. When most fathers would have been at home helping their children with homework, King was standing toe-to-toe, armed with a picket sign, challenging angry white mobs in Selma, Alabama, for voting rights and equal access to public accommodations. Coretta lived in constant fear and had to explain to her children who did not always understand why daddy was not home with them.
On April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn, King made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and democracy, leaving behind Coretta and four exceptional children to continue his legacy. We should all thank King and try to live up to what he aspired for us.
David Miller, M.Ed, is the author of Dare To Be King: What if the Prince Lives? and a Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Social Work at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
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