» Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bust

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Critical Essay by
Shaykh Jibreel Speight
Director of Muslim Life and Chaplain to the University
Fish Interfaith Center


One will see many busts throughout Chapman University's campus. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is among the figures who have graced the campus. At Chapman, he exemplifies the meaning of the “Chapman Four Pillars,” the spiritual, intellectual, physical, and social dimensions of all people and, arguably, an example of a “global citizen.”

His Background & Education

Dr. King grew up in a household of religion. At the age of 15, he began his collegiate education attending Atlanta's Morehouse College (1944 to 1948), majoring in sociology until completing his doctorate at Boston University’s School of Theology in 1955 (The King Center, n.d.).

Dr. King, the Militant Nonviolent Activist

Morehouse President Benjamin E. Mays, whom Dr. King considered his spiritual mentor, encouraged him to view Christianity as an essential role for progressive social change. Thinkers like Walter Rauschenbusch and others helped shaped Dr. King’s theological grounding for his social concerns. However, no other thinker influenced Dr. King more than Mohandas K. Gandhi, the famous spiritual and political Indian thinker who promoted nonviolence against the British empire (Ansbro, 1982).

From 1955, the year of the Montgomery, Alabama bus strike, until his assassination in 1968, Dr. King worked relentlessly in the struggle for human rights and racial equality in a nonviolent fashion earning him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He described his efforts as “militantly nonviolent”:

If you confront a man who has long been cruelly misusing you and say, "Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong," then you wield a powerful and a just weapon. This man, your oppressor, is automatically morally defeated, and if he has any conscience, he is ashamed. Wherever this weapon is used in a manner that stirs a community's, or a nation's, anguished conscience, then the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause (Haley, 1964).

Racial issues did not limit Dr. King's efforts. On the contrary, he was deeply concerned with the poor, and his 1968 “Poor People Campaign” attempted to raise national awareness of poverty an all-race crisis.

The unemployed, poverty-stricken white man must be made to realize that he is in the very same boat with the Negro. Together, they could exert massive pressure on the Government to get jobs for all. Together, they could form a grand alliance. Together, they could merge all people for the good of all (Haley, 1964).

Dr. King and International Affairs

Dr. King’s efforts went beyond the national borders. Using his religious principles, Dr. King addressed the ills of other societies. In a statement delivered at the 1962 American Negro Leadership Conference, Dr. King declared: “Colonialism and segregation are nearly synonymous … because their common end is economic exploitation, political domination, and the debasing of human personality” (The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, n.d.). In the same year, he and Albert Luthuli, the African National Congress president, issued a joint statement entitled, “Appeal for Action against Apartheid,” calling for an end to apartheid (Jr.,1962). In 1965, he gave a speech entitled, “Let My People Go,” describing the evils of white supremacy and poverty:

“Africa does have spectacular savages and brutes today, but they are not black. They are the sophisticated white rulers of South Africa who profess to be cultured, religious, and civilized, but whose conduct and philosophy stamp them unmistakably as modern-day barbarians.

We are in an era in which the issue of human rights is the central question confronting all nations. In this complex struggle, an obvious but little appreciated fact has gained attention-the large majority of the human race is non-white-yet it is that large majority which lives in hideous poverty. While millions enjoy an unexampled opulence in developed nations, ten thousand people die of hunger each and every day of the year in the undeveloped world.” (King, Jr., RFK In The Land of Apartheid, n.d.)

Dr. King criticized America’s involvement in the Vietnam war also. In his speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” he argued that the U.S. was in Vietnam “to occupy it as an American colony (King, Jr., The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, 1967)” and calling the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today (King, Jr., The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, 1967).” The United States, in his opinion, spent an enormous amount of wealth on its military but very little on anti-poverty programs. Furthermore, he argued that the country needed profound moral change:

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." (King, Jr., The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, 1967)

The Role of Mrs. King

While in Boston for his doctorate, Dr. King met and eventually married Coretta Scott, an Alabama-born Antioch College graduate who was then a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. She would be his most significant partner in his pursuit of an improved American and world society (The King Center, n.d.).

Throughout his life as a minister and activist, he never hesitated in expressing his immense love, admiration, and appreciation of his wife. He described her as a woman of fortitude, strength, and calmness. Never complaining, she was patient as he would often be on the road for weeks at a time. Naturally fearful for his safety and that of her family, she did not let it hamper her enthusiasm in assisting Dr. King’s efforts (Clayborne & King, Jr., 1998).

Final Thoughts

Although Gandhi was his role model, some considered him a racist (Frayer, 2019). An advent reader, he seemed to have an apparent shallowness of other world religions like Islam and their philosophies on commanding the good and forbidding the evil, and it is in stark contrast to Gandhi (Ali, 2010). Furthermore, in some marches and events, some were armed to protect him (Thomson-Deveaux, 2014). In addition, he did not seem to engage other Black nationalist groups (Haley, 1964), (Kunhardt, 2018). Moreover, he lacked wisdom addressing the Vietnam War (New York Times, n.d.). Lastly, some considered his “Poor People’s Campaign” too broad in scope (Kunhardt, 2018).

All of these criticisms and many others are worthy of further investigation and discussion. Nevertheless, Dr. King left a legacy of activism based on his theological convictions. It is difficult to conclude that he was not a sincere American nor aloof to world affairs. Instead, we see a man deeply concerned with humanity's soul, and perhaps that is the spirit of being a global citizen.

Works Cited

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Martin Luther King jr. bust

January 1, 1994

Wells Fargo Bank

Designation Name
The Delp-Wilkinson Chair of Peace Studies

Ed Dwight

Campus Location
In front of Moulton Theater, Orange Campus