Martin Luther King Jr. was many things—influential leader of civil rights, advocate for social justice, and also famously a reverend. Born to a father who was a Baptist minister and a mother who was a choir leader at church, King grew up singing songs of praise, and later drew many of his ethical principles from Christian teachings as a minister and an activist.
Humanists celebrate King for his sense of balance and reason, which enabled him to transcend borders and preach to people what the fight for equality takes. His efforts to advance civil rights and social justice—proudly remembered as non-violent protests—remain a turning point in American history and shaped the lives of many black Americans. Above all, King was a leader who believed that freedom and justice are truly for all and carried out his vision.
King was hardly a passive Christian and openly criticized religion’s support of discriminatory practices, once agreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision to rule the school prayer as unconstitutional, saying that, “In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom?” King was also not hesitant to call out organized religions the minute they use faith as a tool for political gains. He was open to the more cosmopolitan idea of what could band societies together, saying that, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
Decades after King’s death, his legacy lives on. And it’s more relevant now than ever. To this day, threats against race, religion, class, and sexuality still surface—and we are pressed with the need to resolve these issues and advocate civil rights for all.
On MLK Day, we strongly urge you to be of service to others. Reach out to people and communities who need your help or charity, and participate in movements that advocate for the basic human rights of those who may need the support the most.
In line with this, student chapters of the Secular Student Alliance are organizing and participating in community service projects in their local communities. Secular or spiritual, together, let us put MLK’s legacy into action and give back to the community.