Two weeks after the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on January 15th, Black history month begins a month-long observance of historical contributions made by people of African ancestry.
There is no question that the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is of extreme importance around the world. Although King was not really part of the Pan-Africanism movement advanced by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a man who led a movement encouraging African Americans and Afro Caribbeans to return to the Mother Continent. While King was proud of his ancestry, his immediate concern was to fight for the civil rights of minorities in the United States; at the same time, he was quite aware of apartheid in South Africa and colonial interventionism in Ghana and other nations.
The distinguished activism career of Matin Luther King started when he was a young man learning about the life of Mahatma Gandhi; he was particularly impressed to learn that the Great Soul once considered adopting Christianity, the religion that guided every action of King’s life. Later in life, King obtained a doctorate degree in theology and learned about Christian kingdoms in Africa.
One of his great concerns was that the American political and socio-economic climate seemed to have started regressing after World War I. Racial inequality was rampant to the point of commissioning segregated military units such as the U.S. Army 761st Tank Battalion, known as the Black Panthers, to fight in World War II. King’s work in the United States started to make headlines around the world when the rallies he organized were repelled by police and countered with racist politics; nonetheless, he insisted upon non-violent activism. By 1957, Martin Luther King began receiving invitations from African leaders; he attended Ghana’s ceremony of independence and the inauguration of Nigerian President Nnamdi Azikiwe three years later.
A few years before his assassination, King took an active role in speaking out against apartheid in South Africa. In late 2017, a letter from King to Jewish philosopher Martin Buber was found in an Israeli museum; in this letter, the civil rights leader urged Buber to join him and other prominent individuals to denounce Apartheid. Buber knew that his own teachings had inspired King, he felt honored and became a leader in the movement to stop Apartheid in South Africa.
The legacy and remembrance of King by Africans was boosted by the election of former U.S. President Barack Obama, a man born to a Kenyan father and a deep admirer of King’s teachings. The fact that Obama took office twice right around Martin Luther King day is not lost on those who study African American history, and the spirit of the leader’s activism was celebrated this year in Michigan at Alma College, where Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, spoke about what it means to work towards advancing human and civil rights.