Today, the Philosophy Department celebrates a man of great character, vision, courage, and ethical influence: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, is best known for his ministry and work on civil rights for African Americans through nonviolence and peaceful resistance. But Dr. King also studied philosophy and was deeply moved by various philosophical lines of thought, which he was able to reshape and make his own.
In his dissertation work at Boston University, Dr. King engaged heavily with the philosophical writings of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman. In 1952 and 1953, Dr. King also attended classes in the Harvard Philosophy Department as a special student, where he studied the philosophy of Plato and Alfred North Whitehead. At Boston University, Howard Thurman introduced Dr. King to Mahatma’s Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance, which had successfully led to India’s independence from foreign rule.
Many people are familiar with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which envisions a utopia where people are judged based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Lesser known but equally important is his speech entitled, “The Other America,” where he urges a broadening of the American Dream and its promise of opportunity, upward mobility, and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to its full population.
On this day of remembrance for Dr. King, the Philosophy Department hopes that you will each take a moment to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and ask how you might take the ideas and powers of thought and reflection that philosophy provides you with to have positive impact, in your own lives and careers, and to promote the public good in your own ways.
Here, finally, is a tribute song to Dr. King, which Nina Simone performed live, shortly after learning about Dr. King’s tragic assassination. We share the song as a reflection on this important day.