I do ask myself ‘why’ quite a few times especially when I delve into Legal Philosophy and Civil Rights Literature. Why is Martin Luther King’s Legacy so important ? I graduated from UC Davis as a Philosophy Major and while studying prelaw I had to study and analyze King’s position on legal philosophy. Furthermore the UC Davis Law school, King’s Hall is named after Dr. King. A federal holiday is declared through-out the nation every year to honor, Dr. King. His speeches and letters are studied by academics in law schools and his life is carefully scrutinized by historians. Needless to say Dr.King’s actions and his struggle for civil rights has had a great impact not only on the history of United States but throughout the world. When I think of Dr.King another personality that comes to mind is of Nelson Mandela and his struggle in South Africa.
It is a very inspiring to read Dr.King’s letters and I feel that his words awaken a desire in myself to not sit by idly as I watch atrocities occur through out the world.
“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It is again quite inspirational to see that even though the “Negro Americans” were undergoing an extremely tough time in the history of the United States, Dr.King did not limit his ideas to his own. Instead he was acutely aware of the struggle throughout the world such as the revolutions against colonialism in Asia, America and South America.
Looking at his legal philosophy and reading his letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr.King takes an eloquent position in natural law theory. Dr. King appeals to the reasoning of earlier philosophers such as St.Thomas Aquinas and describes the difference between an unjust law and just law. According to St.Thomas Aquinas; “An unjust law is no law at all”. Dr.King applies this principle to the example of segregation laws that existed at that point in time.
For Dr.King a just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. Hence, an unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with moral law. According to St.Thomas Aquinas an unjust law is not rooted in eternal or natural law. Furthermore, every law that lifts human personality is just and any law that degrades human personality is unjust. Dr. King provides another characteristic of just and unjust laws. Unjust law is then a code that is inflicted on a minority without the minority having any say in it’s enactment. A just law is then a code that the majority compels a minority to follow and it is willing to follow itself. These principles hold true in many cases where there is conflict between minority and majority. This principle also holds true in establishing relationships between the majority and minority in a given circumstance. Hence, referring to my earlier post “blasphemy laws” this principle can be applied to the case.
Why is it that Dr.King’s work holds much more importance to myself: Well I did migrate to the U.S at a very early age. It is because of Dr.King that the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 was enacted and doors opened to Asian, Latinos and African when these doors were once close. Hence, I believe then the fact that I was able to be in the US, live here and study in an institution such as Davis is because of Dr.King and his struggles. He is indeed a figure of equality and freedom.
Dr. King was indeed a scholar with a strong purpose and vision. Not only did he advocate for equality, ending racial discrimination, but he also advocated for the ending poverty. Poverty and inequality can prove to be the root of troubles for many a societies. Dr. King acutely aware of this worked on this problem and last effort before his assassination is termed as the “poor peoples campaign”.
Dr.King a scholar of greek literature strengthened his campaign through the concept of love. Being aware of the three different forms of love, “eros”, “philia” and “agape” Dr.King used the concept of Agape and argued that it was this form of love that made the African American rebel. What vision to instill in his campaign the one emotion that we as humans all hold dear to us. Love surrounds us, it is present in us from the time we are given birth to the time that we die. The love that Dr.King speaks of ‘agape’ is a completely selfless kind of love that demands nothing in return. For Dr.King love was integral to his philosophy, important in the building of communities and the dissent against segregation and the plight of African Americans and the atrocities occurring through out the world.
The picture in the post was taken in 1986 (my birth year) – MLK JR III and Dean of Law School at UC Davis.