The King of peace - Martin Luther King earns the Nobel Prize
"I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land." -- Martin Luther King Jr.
This week (Dec. 10) in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded what is arguably the world's most important and prestigious honor, the Nobel Peace Prize.
No recipient in the long history of Nobel prizes has deserved the award more than King deserved his. After all, he made America and the world a better place -- and at the cost of his life.
Almost from the moment King assumed the leadership of the civil rights movement during the boycott of the public transit system of Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, he found himself walking a very fine line.
As he put it, how could he lead a civil rights movement that was radical enough to arouse his followers into action, yet was moderate enough to stay true to Christian beliefs? "How do I keep them (his followers) courageous, yet devoid of hate and resentment?" he asked.
His answer was "radical moderation." He would pursue radical ends through moderate means. The ends were a transformation of American society.
The means were massive, non-violent protests against unjust, and therefore un-American, laws and practices at all government levels.
Speaking of fine lines, King also had to walk one between the entrenched white power establishment he was trying to convert and the more radical black leaders who thought non-violence was impractical, cumbersome and demeaning.
But King understood what Black Panther leaders such as Huey Newton did not -- that a widespread, disciplined and non-violent movement such as his was far more threatening to the white status quo than radical black leaders with guns.
After all, sporadic violence played right into the hands of the much-better-armed local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and had no chance of winning over the general public.
By contrast, peaceful protests, in which masses of people willingly submitted to beatings and jailings (all while the cameras were rolling), would make a huge impression on millions of fair-minded Americans.
Then there was the finest line of all that King walked -- the line between life and death. Between the countless threats and the many attempts on his life, King understood that he would probably not live to an old age. Yet that knowledge, combined with his deep religious faith, empowered him and gave him renewed courage.
"You may take my life," King once said. "But you can never take my right to life."
After all, a man unafraid to die truly is free. And one who dies for a great cause truly is deserving of great honor.
Kauffmann's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.