**Note: This is an improved version of the essay than published earlier at Cameron’s request.
This is the first essay in a series of works written by Roeper seventh graders in their Social Studies class around questions and topics concerning Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In this essay, Cameron Schemm addresses who influenced Dr. King. If you have comments for Cameron, please send them to his teacher, Emery Pence. Stay tuned next Monday for the next in the series.
WHO INSPIRED DR. KING?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had many influences. One of his earliest was from his family. Dr. King’s father was a baptist pastor. One of Dr. King’s reasons for nonviolent protests was his belief in Christianity. When he went to Atlanta’s Morehouse College from 1944 to 1948, the President of the college encouraged him to look at Christianity as a possible force for social change.
Abraham Lincoln inspired King because of Lincoln’s first step towards equality in the United States. If Lincoln hadn’t signed the Emancipation Proclamation or if the Civil War had been lost, it would have been nearly impossible for King to unite the thousands of people, black and white, in the push for equal rights. In a way, Lincoln laid the groundwork for what Dr. King would later achieve.
At first, Dr. King didn’t think that nonviolence could do much in the fight for equal rights. There were just not enough African Americans in comparison to White Americans. Then, he heard a lecture about Gandhi’s teachings. He realized that Gandhi’s philosophy and its emphasis on love and nonviolence was perfect for attempting to reform the country.
Henry David Thoreau was an abolitionist and a conductor on the underground railroad. He is also known for writing the book Walden, a book about Thoreau’s experiences living in a cabin in the woods for two years. There, he hoped to obtain an unbiased view of society, to gain experience at being self-sufficient, and to live simply. Thoreau believed in the power of nonviolently fighting against injustice in society, as he details in his essay, Civil disobedience. He says “ If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible.” While he was in college, Dr. King read this essay. Later, he used Thoreau’s ideas in the essay as inspiration for his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He also wrote in his autobiography: “During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau’s essay On Civil Disobedience for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander’s refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery’s territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance.”
Leo Tolstoy was a famous Russian author. Despite having beliefs almost contrary to Dr. King’s, Dr. King still managed to find something he agreed with in Tolstoy’s statement in War and Peace: “I cannot conceive of a man not being free unless he is dead.” In other words, if a man is not free, then he must be dead. Dr. King didn’t take that literally, but he did agree that not having any freedom was the same as being dead. The way King understood it, the unjust treatment of African Americans would result in part of their spiritual selves dying.
Dr. King was influenced by many people. Other influences were fellow Civil Rights activists, Bayard Rustin, Benjamin Mays, Hosea Williams and Howard Thurman. Apart from people who influenced him, Dr. King has shown many other people that African Americans are no different from White Americans. His words have given people the idea that they, too, can change things.
“About Dr. King.” About Dr. King. The King Center, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.\
“Civil Disobedience (Thoreau).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
“Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, 21 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
“Walden.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.