Dr Martin Luther King Jr affected by Jamaican visit

Sunday, January 19, 2014    

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NOBODY comes to Jamaica and leaves the same person they were when they arrived. Millions of tourists have experienced the benefits of being in Jamaica and millions more have been changed by their engagement with, or exposure to, Jamaicans.

The lives of many people all over the world have been profoundly influenced by Jamaicans such as Ms Mary Seacole, Messrs Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Claude McKay and Usain Bolt. Some who were revolutionary political activists destined to change the world spent an important interval in Jamaica. The most famous was the liberator of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, who penned the famous 'Jamaica Letter' from these environs.

Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who will be memorialised by the annual holiday in his honour in the United States tomorrow, visited Jamaica in June 1965. Accompanied by his wife, he delivered addresses at the graduation ceremony at the University of the West Indies, Mona and to the public at the National Stadium. He was profoundly affected by his short sojourn.

Dr King saw the freedom he was fighting for in the US in action in Jamaica, a politically independent majority Black country. Dr King was so comfortable in Jamaica that he returned in 1967 and rented a house where he completed the manuscript which became his most important book: Where Do We Go From Here.

He chose Jamaica of all the places, not only because it provided an opportunity to reflect without distractions, but because his spirit and vision were inspired by this independent Black country.

This interlude of reflection came at a critical point in the struggle, both in terms of the direction of the civil rights movement and in his own thinking and vision which had broadened from civil rights in the USA to human rights for mankind.

He had come to the realisation that there were commonalities between the issues in the US and the rest of the world, as did Malcolm X after his trip to Africa. Dr King expressed that global vision of interconnectedness as: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

He had come to realise that getting the right to vote was the means to legal desegregation but not necessarily to economic segregation, which trapped African-Americans in poverty. That, he knew, required employment and education to which Blacks had little access.

We here in Jamaica celebrate the life and work of Rev Dr King, who helped force America to live up to its creed by non-violent methods in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi. Dr King, inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ and emboldened by his suffering, endured several periods of imprisonment and many incidents of violence, leading him to say: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

We note, too, that there is a remarkable overlap of ideas between Marcus Garvey and Dr King in regard to the need for political freedom to be supported by economic development and that this quest had parallels with people outside the US.

Mr Taylor Branch reminds us, in a recent reflection on his magisterial work America in the King Years 1954-1968, that one of the profound lessons of the life of Dr Martin Luther King is that "citizens and leaders can work miracles together despite every hardship, against great odds".





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