Martin Luther King, Jr.: Hate-Filled Speech?

He read Gandhi and adopted Gandhi’s techniques for use by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He believed that peaceful protest, civil discourse, and man’s better nature would win the day and bring about change. He traveled something over six million miles and gave more than 2,000 speeches.

He won, quite deservedly, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Here is a bio of Martin Luther King, Jr., from the Nobel Prize website. The information in this bio jibes well with what I’ve read in my previous readings of this man’s life.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was Time’s Man of the Year in 1963. He devoted his life to the cause of civil equality for black people, and really, other minorities as well, all things considered. But he wasn’t a perfect man, of course. He had his weaknesses and his flaws. I see no reason to get into them here.

But was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. guilty of hate speech?

On this day, every year, I make sure I take time to listen to his most famous speech, usually called his “I Have a Dream” speech. It is a remarkable piece of rhetoric, delivered with extraordinary passion and power.

Here is a video of the complete speech:

Listen to this video and notice how beautiful and resonant his language is. The entire ‘check’ and ‘promissory note’ metaphor is incredibly effective. But listen also for these words and phrases:

“exile” (denoting deliberate imprisonment or separation)

“no time to take the luxury of cooling off” (encouraging anger?)

“fatal for the nation” (a threat to the nation?)

“will have a rude awakening” (sounds like a threat?)

“there will be [no] tranquility until…” (threat of violence?)

“The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation…” (calling for a revolution?)

“New militancy” (the image is strong)

Dude, that’s hate speech, isn’t it?

No, it’s effective use of language. Martin Luther King used this language to make a point, and he was always very careful to warn his colleagues against violence.

Let me be clear: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not use hate-filled vitriolic speech to incite to violence. He used figurative language such as metaphor (new militancy, revolt) and called upon literature to make powerful points and to encourage those working with him to greater devotion and harder work. These terms I’ve highlighted are only a few of the rhetorical strategies he uses in this moving speech.

Of course he isn’t calling for violence. Not only does he specifically proscribe violence, he talks about discipline and working on a higher plane.

And can you hear his love for his country? He quotes American lyrics and poetry and historical documents.

My point is that he used metaphors appropriate to his day, figurative language that would have a powerful, stirring effect. He knew that the vast majority of the people listening were familiar with, and adherents to, Scripture, so he called upon it extensively– to be sure, he believed in what he was saying.

Today we have highly visible pundits- politicians, colorful opinionators, and others- doing their very best to convince people to believe them.

Those most in the public eye have not called for violence. All sides have used imagery and metaphor that resonates with fighting and battle: ‘target‘ and ‘target,’ ‘guns‘ and ‘crosshairs,’ but is using these images and language really, no– really– inciting other people to violence?

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the person who shot Gabrielle Giffords and killed those six people pretty much made his choice for himself? All politics aside, the guy was obviously messed up.

It just seems naive of people: politicians, talking heads, entertaining opinionators, when they try to convince us that this person, or that party, is responsible for the killings perpetrated by some guy who didn’t even LISTEN to that person or party. Either these people are naive, or they think we are stupid.

Not to get political, but did Loughner ever even see the map Palin’s crew made? I never did until I made this blog post, and I’m pretty politically active, and I like Sarah Palin. (Let me be clear, I like her because of what she got done as governor. I hope that she isn’t the best ANY party can come up with as a presidential candidate, and I just think she would be a bad president. But I bet I could be her friend.)

Is there any evidence at all… AT ALL… that Loughner was influenced by the political vitriol filling our airwaves?

My point, again, is that Martin Luther King, Jr. did not use hate speech, but he did use effective, figurative language and imagery to get his point across. He’s not to blame for violence– he’s more likely responsible for pervasive peace during that time. And as much as I really dislike the lack of civil discourse in our political arena today, I just think it’s specious and wrong to blame the evil perpetrated by Loughner on figurative and colorful language of others. He should be held totally responsible for his actions; he deserves everything that’s coming to him.

Long blog post.

We can talk about guns sometime too, if you like. But just so you know, guns don’t kill people; foxes shoot guns.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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