Martin's Big Words


January 16, 2002|By Doreen Rappaport

* Editor's note: One of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement uses the power of words and the principle of non-violence to guide his people toward equality.

Everywhere in Martin's hometown, he saw the signs, WHITE ONLY. His mother said these signs were in all Southern cities and towns in the United States. Every time Martin read the words, he felt bad, until he remembered what his mother told him:

"You are as good as anyone."

In church Martin sang hymns. He read form the bible. He listened to his father preach. These words made him feel good.

"When I grow up, I'm going to get big words, too."

Martin grew up. He became a minister like his father. And he used big words he had heard as a child from his parents and from the Bible.

"Everyone can be great."

He studied the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. He learned how the Indian nation won freedom without ever firing a gun. Martin said "love," when others said "hate."

"Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that."

He said "Together" when others said "separate." He said "peace" when others said "war."

"Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together."

In 1955 on a cold December day in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks was coming home from work. A white man told her to get up from her seat on the bus so he could sit. She said No, and was arrested.

Montgomery's black citizens learned of her arrest. It made them angry. They decided not to ride the buses until they could sit anywhere they wanted.

For 381 days they walked to work and school and church. They walked in rain and cold and in blistering heat. Martin walked with them and talked with them and sang with them and prayed with them until the white city leaders had to agree they could sit anywhere they wanted.

"When the history books are written, someone will say there lived black people who had the courage to stand up for their rights."

In the next 10 years, black Americans all over the South protested for equal rights. Martin walked with them and talked with them and sang with them and prayed with them.

White ministers told them to stop. Mayors and governors and police chiefs and judges ordered them to stop. But they kept on marching.

"Wait! For years I have heard the word 'Wait!' We have waited more than 340 years for our rights."

They were jailed and beaten and murdered. But they kept on marching. Some black Americans wanted to fight back with their fists. Martin convinced them not to, by reminding them of the power of love.

"Love is the key to the problems of the world."

Many white Southerners hated and feared Martin's words. A few threatened to kill him and his family. His house was bombed. His brother's house was bombed. But he refused to stop.

"Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not be stopped, because God is with this movement."

The marches continued. More and more Americans listened to Martin's words. He shared his dreams and filled them with hope.

"I have a dream that one day in Alabama little black boys and black girls will join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

After 10 years of protests, the lawmakers in Washington voted to end segregation. The WHITE ONLY signs in the South came down.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., cared about all Americans. He cared about people all over the world. And people all over the world admired him. In 1964, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He won it because he taught others to fight with words, not fists.

Martin went wherever people needed help. In April 1968 he went to Memphis, Tennessee. He went to help garbage collectors who were on strike. He walked with them and talked with them and sang with them and prayed with them.

On his second day there, he was shot.

He died.

His big words are alive for us today.

From MARTIN'S BIG WORDS: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport. Copyright c 2001 Doreen Rappaport. Illustrations copyright c 2001 Bryan Collier. Reprinted by permission of Hyperion Books for Children.

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