Between 1955 and 1968 when he was assassinated, the man was a powerful and unrelenting voice in the quest of African-Americans for equality in a land in which their forebears served as slaves. His “I have a Dream” speech today resonates around the world as a hymn of the struggle, a defining moment in the battle that led to the promulgation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…

“From the very beginning I was an extraordinarily healthy child. It is said that at my birth the doctors pronounced me a one hundred percent perfect child, from a physical point of view. I hardly know how an ill moment feels. I guess the same thing would apply to my mental life. I have always been somewhat precocious, both physically and mentally. So it seems that from a hereditary point of view, nature was very kind to me.”

So wrote Martin Luther King Jr, the African-American civil rights activist, of his early life, in the book titled The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson. King didn’t live to write the book himself. Rather, it is a compilation of his writings prior to when he met his death on April 4, 1968 through an assassin’s bullet. With the permission of King’s family, Carson put the work together based entirely, as the editor put it, on King’s “own words.” A medically sound human, as King describes himself, should, granted God’s grace, live a long life. But King lived for only 39 years, a number of which were dedicated to serving his people as a preacher and civil rights activist. Yet, it is a testament to the man’s life’s work that his legacy remains indelible. That proves Benjamin Franklin’s assertion true, that “A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough.” King was a gift to the African-American society and he deployed his talent to serving his people.

Between 1955 and 1968 when he was assassinated, the man was a powerful and unrelenting voice in the quest of African-Americans for equality in a land in which their forebears served as slaves. His “I have a Dream” speech today resonates around the world as a hymn of the struggle, a defining moment in the battle that led to the promulgation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned segregation and employment discrimination in the United States of America on the basis of race, colour or religion, and of which African-Americans were at the receiving end. How much more can a man give his people and what lessons are there to learn from King’s life of service, in placing others above self, in knowing that life is meaningless if it is not directed at serving humanity?

King’s life is a lesson for African leaders particularly, many of who view service as living large and feeding fat at the people’s expense. Looking back at the state of African-Americans in the United States today, or that of motherland Africa, the land of King’s forebears, would the late preacher, were the dead able to, be happy with its state-of-affairs? Would he be happy to learn that in Nigeria, for example, the most populous black nation on earth, leaders live in opulence, while millions of the people they purportedly represent, have no food, shelter, basic amenities or jobs to sustain them? Would he be happy to learn that those in leadership positions in Nigeria presently earn millions upon millions of naira as salaries and emoluments each month, even when workers across the country are not paid salaries for months? What would King think of Nigerian and African politicians and their failed promises to their people, politicians who amass wealth through state funds, and use the same to create all manners of businesses using fronts, folks who recruit and sustain thugs as killer squads and are happy to be called “godfathers”? Politicians who instigate conflict and wars in their homelands in pursuit of their personal agendas? What would he think of the condition of the African-American today as well? King’s influence in helping to steer his people on the path of prosperity, in bridging the racial divide and inequality in America, is such that the third Monday of January, anually, is observed in the United States as the Martin Luther King day.

…the fate of African-Americans, 52 years after King’s demise, is believed by some to still be fraught with challenges on many fronts. Several African-Americans believe that they are yet to be fully integrated in the country they call home; that they still face discrimination in the country, in a manner which, among others, manifests in limited job opportunities for them.

However, the fate of African-Americans, 52 years after King’s demise, is believed by some to still be fraught with challenges on many fronts. Several African-Americans believe that they are yet to be fully integrated in the country they call home; that they still face discrimination in the country, in a manner which, among others, manifests in limited job opportunities for them. An April 2019 Pew research reveals that, “More than 150 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, most U.S. adults say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on the position of black people in American society today. More than four-in-ten say the country hasn’t made enough progress toward racial equality, and there is some skepticism, particularly among blacks, that black people will ever have equal rights with whites.”

“Black and white adults have widely different perceptions of how blacks are treated in America, but majorities of both groups say blacks are treated less fairly than whites by the criminal justice system (87 per cent of blacks vs. 61 per cent of whites) and in dealing with police (84 per cent vs. 63 per cent, respectively). About six-in-ten blacks or more – but fewer than half of whites – say blacks are treated less fairly than whites in hiring, pay and promotions; when applying for a loan or mortgage; in stores or restaurants; when voting in elections; and when seeking medical treatment. In each of these realms, whites tend to say blacks and whites are treated about equally; very small shares say whites are treated less fairly than blacks.”

The study further notes that “Blacks are particularly gloomy about the country’s racial progress. More than eight-in-ten black adults say the legacy of slavery affects the position of black people in America today, including 59 per cent who say it affects it a great deal. About eight-in-ten blacks (78 per cent) say the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites, and fully half say it’s unlikely that the country will eventually achieve racial equality.”

The research also draws attention to President Donald Trump’s role in promoting racial harmony or the lack of it in America, stating that, “Some 56% think the president has made race relations worse.” Such perception of Trump, among others, likely draws from the man’s well known views on black neighbourhoods, as well as on race, religion and migration as it concerns some countries. Early in his administration, Trump issued an order banning nationals of some Muslim countries from entering America and was reported as describing African countries as “shitholes.” Whatever people think of Trump or his policies though, he obviously has a high opinion of Martin Luther King Jnr. A White House tweet from the president about the African-American icon, celebrating his day, states:

“Today, we pause to honor the incredible life and accomplishments of Dr. King, who helped shape the Civil Rights Movement, gave hope to millions experiencing discrimination, and whose enduring memory inspires us to pursue a more just and equal society.”

A man given to controversy, few people, I believe, will fault Trump on this!

Anthony Akaeze is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and author.

Picture credit: Reg Lancaster/Express via Getty Images.