Biographical Poetry posted February 4, 2024

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I Have a Dream.

Martin Luther King Jnr.

by Debbie D'Arcy

This Dreamer's life was quickly steeped in Southern Baptist creed
and, by the age of five, he would be learning hymns by heart.
Such influence, mid strict regime, would sow a fertile seed
to yield his path to righteousness, so destined from the start.
His father was a minister of high regard and fame,
an activist who fought against oppression's glaring sin
and, in his quest to find the truth, he even changed his name,
adopting Luth'ran* teaching for his parish and his kin.
But, in the home, paternal rule with whippings wrought much shame
and, contemplating right from wrong, evoked internal strife
For, when his grandma passed away, incurring no one's blame,
this sad, young boy with needless guilt would try to take his life.
His parents, soon, would strive to shield their son from racist slights,
to pacify his anger when his colour would divide.
Apartheid had ignited, then, a cause for civil rights,
a movement he invested in with boyhood zeal and pride.
A charismatic student, born to be an activist,
he first considered other routes in med'cine and the law
but then, to father's great relief, the Church revived his gift
to break down walls with eloquence and change the world he saw.
Though following in father's wake, his values were more free
as college life would open doors to drinking beer and games;
an inter-racial love affair could also never be
and heartbreak was the cross he bore pursuing past'ral aims.
The contrast in the northern states would stun him to the core,
where blacks and whites would integrate, a dream he would explore.
It fuelled desire more strongly still with passion that he swore
to free his home state, Georgia, from the shackles that it bore.
Then, at the age of twenty-four, he sought a girl to wed
and swept Coretta* off her feet before they even met.
With poetry of charm, romance, his sparkle warmly read,
'twas in short while, in Kingly style, the marriage date was set.
His calling for the pastorship would start his new career.
But soon a racist incident would fan his deep remorse 
for Rosa Parks,* the subject of a boycott for a year;
its conduct, he declared, would only win with peaceful force.
Determined he would persevere though threats would oft abound,
he saw this landmark case take flight with fame that quickly spread,
and overnight in US news, his stature was renowned -
his boycott role propelled his name, became his watershed.
Despite success, he'd put himself within the firing line
and, though he garnered mass support that fuelled him on his path,
resistance also grew against his plans to redefine
a country, complex and at war,* arousing hate and wrath.
Attacked* and threatened, sent to jail, he knew the risks were great,
but driven on by faith and hope, he overcame his fear
with never-ending energy to give his protests weight,
inspire his cause with soulful might and focus ever clear.
And so in that grey storm and cloud, a day before he died,*
he made his last prophetic speech, a more reflective stand:
he claimed he'd reached the mountain top (on God's will he relied)
and destiny would be embraced - he'd seen the Promised Land.
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord"



Martin Luther King 1929 - 1968 (Apologies for missing his birthday on 15 January)

Visual: courtesy of Google free pics. Information sources: Wikipedia and other biographies, reports and essays.

Stanza 1: He was born Martin King Jnr., in Atlanta, Georgia, the second of three children. In 1931, his father became senior pastor of the Ebenezer Church. With support from his wife he raised the congregation from 600 to several thousand.

Stanza 2: In 1934 the church sent his father on multi-national trips, visiting such sites as Germany where he became acquainted with *Martin Luther, theologian and religious reformer who was the catalyst for the 16th century Protestant Reformation. This inspiration, amid the church's condemnation of the rise of Nazism, prompted him on his return home to change both his name and that of his five year old son.

Stanza 3: His father regularly used whippings to discipline the children, sometimes even getting them to whip each other. He would remark about his son that he would stand with the tears rolling down but never cry. On occasions, King Jnr. would unjustifiably blame himself and attempted suicide on two occasions by jumping out of a second floor window. The second example of this was when his grandmother died of a heart attack and he believed that this was God's action after he had sneaked off to a parade without permission when he should have been studying.

Stanza 4: King Jnr. quickly learned about the injustice of apartheid from his father and would get angry when discrimination affected him. In response, his parents taught him not to feel resentment towards the whites because all were equal in God's eyes. The Civil Rights movement started in 1954 and continued until 1968.

Stanza 5: Although he had an "inner urge to serve humanity" he questioned, at one stage, whether the pastoral route was the way to achieve this aim. With mentoring, he revived his determination.

Stanza 6: Following in his father's footsteps in educational choices, he was far less conservative. He became romantically linked with a white girl and went through a particularly difficult time when encouraged to end this for the sake of his proposed career in the Church. One friend was quoted as saying that he never recovered.

Stanza 7: Travelling through the northern states, he was stunned and excited by the integration that was so visible there compared to his experience in the South.

Stanza 8: Shortly before his calling, he asked a friend to introduce him to a nice Southern girl. Although Coretta Scott was, at first, not interested in dating preachers, she agreed to a telephone call. During that call and, before, he'd even met her, King poetically declared: "I am like Napoleon at Waterloo before your charms." They were married in 1953.

Stanzas 9-10: At the age of 25, he was called as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The following year, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the city bus. This and another incident (also reflecting King's own earlier experience) led to the Montgomery bus boycott, led by King. The boycott lasted 385 days and the situation became so tense that King's own home was bombed and he was jailed for a trumped up driving violation. The controversy ended with a ruling in the US District Court prohibiting segregation on Montgomery public buses. By then, he had become a national figure and the best-known spokesman of the civil rights movement.
King had been exposed to the concept of non-violent resistance at college. His dedication to "soul force" was later consolidated after researching the life of Mahatma Gandi.

Stanza 11: With success and following also came resistance and retaliation. King was expanding his remit to include economic discrimination, supporting strikes and contesting the *Vietnam War, saying that money would be better spent of investing in equal rights at home. The American Dream was not fulfilling its intention.

Stanza 12: In 1958, he was nearly killed when a mentally ill black woman stabbed him in the chest, narrowly missing his aorta. He had returned to his home state of Atlanta when the student sit-ins took place in the 60s in protest against violation of civil rights. King agreed to participate but, among others, was arrested by police. He was subsequently the only one detained and was sentenced to 4 months hard labour after an earlier probationary deal plea was invoked. As a result of national reaction and fear for his safety in jail, such eminent figures as Robert Kennedy were obliged to intervene and successfully get him released.

Stanza 13: In March 1968, he went to Memphis in support of the black sanitation workers. On 3 April, he addressed a rally with his I've Been to the Mountaintop speech (His flight to Memphis had been delayed due a bomb threat against the plane, inevitably influencing his prophetic sentiments). The next day he was fatally shot by James Earl Ray while standing on the second floor balcony of his motel. His last words to musician, Ben Brach, who was scheduled to play at an event that evening that King was attending, were: "Ben, make sure you play 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty."
An autopsy revealed that, although he was only 39, he had the heart of a 60 year old. The shocking assassination sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country. In 1969, the assassin, Ray, a drifter and former convict, was sentenced to 99 years imprisonment. He died in 1998.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord (Rev 14: 14-19)

"We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools."

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