When my Professor asked me to write this post I thought to myself, ‘oh! This is an easy one.’ I heard MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech and I found it quite moving but when I started writing this blog I asked myself ‘what makes a great leader? Or what makes a leader great?’
In Pakistan, our greatest leader and founding father, Qauid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, is credited with altering the course of history, changing the map of the world and creating a nation-state.[i]
When I looked up at the achievements of MLK I could not find one of them. So what made him so great?
There are two kinds of leaders one who creates a movement and other who are created by the movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes in the second category. He did not create the African-American’s rights movement; it was the movement which created him.
He took the movement to the next level where he showed America that it was possible to give black-Americans their rights and it was impossible for black-Americans to live without those rights. He showed America that change was possible, in fact indispensible.
His oratory made him, and rightly so, the poster child of the black-Americans’ rights movement. His leadership style was imbued in his ideal of ‘standing for what he believed in.’
Before he led the historic ‘march on Washington’ and gave ‘I have a dream’ speech (1963) he faced an embarrassing failure in Albany, Georgia (1962) where he with local activists campaigned for the rights of local black population and failed to achieve most of the goals. It raised questions on his credibility as a leader.
What made his struggle more difficult and meaningful was the fact that he was not opposed by just white-Americans; he faced opposition from many black-Americans who saw violence as a more effective mean to register their protests and at times used his fame to their advantage and negated his ideal of non-violent struggle.
But he continued to make ceaseless calls for non-violence, and eventually a lot of white Americans started to look beyond stereotypes and supported black-American’s struggle for equal rights.
March on Washington displayed his ability to rally large number of people in peaceful protests. His speech showed a vivid dream to black-Americans – the dream of true freedom and the same speech drew a gloomy picture of looming unrest if the White House failed to understand the urgency of the situation.
“We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for whites only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.”
“Those who hoped that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquillity in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
March on Washing, 1963
His ability to make the personal appeal turns him into a real person from a figure of history.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
March on Washing, 1963
His legacy – though unfinished – is a source of guidance for people, all over the world, who share his belief that all men are created equal.