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Jan-18-2010 13:58printcomments

Reflections on the Legacy and Teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Such is the slavery of ignorance, the disease that King worked to cure in his society.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

(EUGENE, Ore.) - On this national holiday we have an opportunity to honor the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is not sufficient to honor a great individual simply by placing their name on a calendar, or by closing a few offices for the day.

In order to honor a great individual it is necessary to listen to their words, and try to understand what made them exemplary. MLK was a preacher, a teacher, and a healer. He sought to cure people of a disease by teaching them the truth about themselves and their society.

The disease that he sought to cure was the disease of ignorance.

King understood that ignorance cannot be cured by force. Ignorance cannot be cured by any material means because it is an internal disease.

Ignorance can only be cured by truth. Ignorance is an infectious disease. It is never fully eradicated, but only kept in remission through a continuous and conscious effort to treat it through the unyielding application of truth. In His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” King enumerates the symptoms of this disease of ignorance as they were experienced by Himself, His family, and community.

The symptoms of this disease were a society where some people claimed superiority over others, exploited their labor, stole their property, committed violence against them, and used every means of oppression and humiliation at their disposal in order to maintain this unjust social order.

What is crucial to remember is that the symptoms are not the disease. Treating the symptoms does not cure the disease.

This difference between the symptoms and the disease is misunderstood by some. It is assumed by these people that enforcing laws guaranteeing equal access to government services or the right to vote was the cure. It is assumed that this cure was given to African-Americans, alleviating their disease.

Such thinking is the result of an even greater and more pronounced ignorance than that which affected the Southern slave holder, who is now justly maligned in the harshest of terms.

What is not understood is that rights are not given by laws, but asserted by people. When people assert the rights that are justly theirs, then unjust laws by necessity must change.

Martin Luther King did not only campaign to have legislative laws changed. He declared the legislated law to be unjust, and he taught people that unjust laws must be broken if justice is to prevail.

Martin Luther King, and every person who, in the face of great hardship, asserted their rights, changed the law. Once the law was changed, the legislatures in Washington D.C. and in the States had to change their behavior, because then it was they who were in violation of the law.

Understanding the progression of cause and effect in this matter is an essential aspect of understanding Dr. King’s legacy. It is essential for understanding how this disease of ignorance must continue to be treated.

Even today, there is a current of thought that views the civil rights movement as meaningful only for African-Americans. The civil rights movement was a great achievement for African-Americans, but the achievement made was not only for them.

After all, the disease that King sought to cure was not solely or even primarily a disease of the African-Americans, but a disease of the European-Americans. Ultimately, what King sought to cure is a disease of humanity, because when any of our fellow human beings are suffering in ignorance, we all suffer with them. King taught truth in order to treat ignorance, but the greatest ignorance that he faced was not in African-Americans, but in European-Americans.

When the Europeans came to this country, and set up the slave trade to work their enormous plantations, the European aristocracy brought with them a few of their own people to be masters of these slaves.

Did these ignorant Europeans stop to think for a moment that in their own countries they themselves had been slaves? No. They became masters of other men, at least in their own minds, and in doing so enslaved themselves in bonds that are much harder to break than those of iron or steel.

The European serfs, still themselves the servants of their old masters, were given new servants of their own. They traded their humanity and dignity for a rung up on the ladder and sold their souls for the most pitiable price. The iron bonds of slavery that bound the Africans in this country could be broken by force. The bonds of ignorance cannot. It is from bonds that cannot be seen that a slave may never break free, if they do not first recognize that they are in fact a slave.

Such is the slavery of ignorance, the disease that King worked to cure in his society.

Is this work finished? Do we honor King’s memory on this day to commemorate his lasting and permanent victory over ignorance, intolerance, prejudice, and injustice? No. King’s work is never finished. While we pause to honor his legacy, we must also take that opportunity to educate ourselves in his methodology, so that we may continue in his work, just as he continued in the work of so many others before him.

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Salem-News.com Business/Economy Reporter Ersun Warncke is a native Oregonian. He has a degree in Economics from Portland State University and studied Law at University of Oregon. At a young age, his career spans a wide variety of fields, from fast food, to union labor, to computer programming. He has published works concerning economics, business, government, and media on blogs for several years. He currently works as an independent software designer specializing in web based applications, open source software, and peer-to-peer (P2P) applications. Ersun describes his writing as being "in the language of the boardroom from the perspective of the shop floor." He adds that "he has no education in journalism other than reading Hunter S. Thompson." But along with life comes the real experience that indeed creates quality writers. Right now, every detail that can help the general public get ahead in life financially, is of paramount importance. You can write to Ersun at: warncke@comcast.net




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