In a world where preschoolers upload YouTube videos and dysfunctional humans spew racist trash while running for president, it’s important to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. for what he was able to achieve in a much less technologically advanced time, and the noble way in which he did it.
Dr. King skillfully leveraged the mass media of his day, waking up the world to racial injustice and the belief that nonviolence was the only road to freedom. He became one of our early made-for-TV personalities, willing to appear anywhere, from a Sunday morning news program to the Merv Griffin show, to further the cause. And he understood the power of the picture. Mark Strassman of CBS News explained it well in this story from 2011:
King’s media savvy was aided by his extraordinary oratorical gifts. Listen to what he does with the word “maladjusted” in less than a minute and a half. Tick off all the points he makes about racism, income inequality, tolerance – as if his spirit hovers over Ferguson, Charleston, Baltimore and the home of every American struggling to make ends meet – and ask yourself if any of today’s public figures even come close to this eloquence:
From the rest of that speech, given to Western Michigan University in December of 1963:
“I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence. But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence…
“I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who will be as maladjusted ….. as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half‐slave and half‐free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery would scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, ‘We know these truths to be self‐evident, that all men are created equal’…. Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved. “