#InContext: Martin Luther King Jr.

by | Oct 11, 2017

In early 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. pitched an idea to publish his well-known sermons. Melvin Arnold, head of Harper & Brothers’ Religious Books Department, agreed to publish King’s book and repeatedly begged him for the manuscript for the next several years. But it was not until five years later that King finally put his pen to paper.

During the Albany Movement in July 1962, King was arrested outside Albany City Hall for holding a prayer vigil. He spent more than two weeks in jail, but despite his unfortunate circumstances, he used his time wisely. He finally had time to begin drafting a volume of his popular sermons, which he named Strength to Love. Published in 1963, it was the first book of sermons by an African American author to become widely available to white audiences. To this day, Strength to Love remains a testament to King’s lifelong fight for social change with the utmost compassion and dignity.

In his sermon titled, “On Being a Good Neighbor,” King explores the idea of the Good Samaritan and true altruism. King says that in life, people often ask, “What will happen to my job, my prestige or my status if I take a stand on this issue? If I take a stand for justice and truth, will my home be bombed, will my life be threatened or will I be jailed?” But King suggests the Good Samaritan reverses the question, and asks not what will happen to him if he does help, but what will happen to the people in need if he does not. He then goes on to state one of his many famous quotes:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor is the man who will risk his position and prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”

In modern America, while people may not be as worried about their homes being bombed or going to jail for holding prayer vigils, there could be a million other reasons that people are afraid to stand up for justice and truth. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words remain as relevant today as they were in 1963. Those truly seeking justice must not fear the consequences they may suffer as a result of helping others; rather, they must take a deeper look and ask where others will be if they ignore the call to help.

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