About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the first things to pop into one’s head are usually “I Have a Dream” and the fact of his assassination at the tender age of 39. But “charismatic speaker, tragic early death” says little about the man. As both Baptist preacher and university professor, he had breadth and depth. Whatever native courage, work ethic and high quality genes he received from his parents, the man learned and practiced the greatest philosophies of mankind. Take a gander at this reading list for a class he taught at Morehouse College:
Read any Thomas Aquinas lately? Big fan of Hegel? How about Locke for bathroom reading, next to the Sports Illustrated and the sudoku? Yeah, me neither. I got a SkyMall catalogue in there.
And for the record, he was well-matched by his wife Coretta Scott King, who was teaching and preaching internationally, too.
Of course, he was no ivory tower intellect; he turned his knowledge into action. During the bus boycott of 1955/56, the King home was bombed. Bombed. He spoke to the crowd gathered around his home, reminding them of the instruction of Jesus to love their enemies. He could have moved his family to safety, and dispensed little pamphlets, from some university office away up north. They weren’t the only African Americans living under the immediate threat of deadly violence, but with their levels of education, the Kings had a choice. They chose to stay right in the heart of the fight.
Doctor Martin Luther King was a philosopher, leader and prophet; few of our heroes past or present have that depth of learning combined with action.
He taught the Social Philosophy Seminar, while most of us don’t even read that deeply. What’s more, by his life, he added his own name to the syllabus. It’s still an intimidating list, and now, with the name King on it, even harder to live up to.