The Strong and the Soft Side of Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorating His Life and Legacy 50 Years Later

The Strong and the Soft Side of Martin Luther King Jr.
Commemorating His Life and Legacy 50 Years Later 

We hear more often about the strong side of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. than his soft side, which is suitable because of his serious and steadfast search for social justice. His words were often powerful and persuasive, while at other times pleasant and playful.  

            Remembering His Soft Side 

The soft side of Dr. King came out once again just shortly before he died while staying at the two-story Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A march was planned to take place in a few days in support of poorly treated sanitation workers. Andrew Young, pastor, politician, and protester, got up early the day Dr. King died. He went to federal court to find out if the judge would issue a permit for the march. The hearing ran late, unbeknown to Dr. King, and Young was not able to report back until much later in the day.  

Young stated,  

“He immediately started fussing in a kind of joking way about ‘why don’t you call and let me know what’s going on? We’re sitting hear all day long waiting to hear from you and you didn’t call’—and he picked up a pillow and threw it at me. And I threw it back, and we ended up with five or six of us in a pillow fight.[1] 

The soft side of Dr. King also came out again shortly afterwards in an exchange marked with teasing and bantering with Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles who had invited Dr. King for dinner. Rev. Kyles came to the Lorraine Motel to take Dr. King to dinner. As written,  

“Billy Kyles knocked at the door, encouraging them to hurry along, and King struggled to button the collar of a tight shirt as Kyles teased him about how he was getting fat. They bantered on as King found a larger shirt and started searching for his tie.[2] 

Commemorating His Strong Side 

Dr. King was not tall in physical stature but he was large in standing and status. The spiritual side of him knew, as he often stated, “every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle.” 

Dr. King affirmed “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle” and “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” 

As he stepped out on the second floor balcony of the motel with Rev. Kyles and others at his side, it was clear to many that Dr. King’s numerous speeches, sermons, and stories had shaped him into a symbol of societal strength for solving social struggles.  

Within moments, a shot rang out and a bullet struck Dr. King, who died about an hour later. As his strength ebbed out of him, it soon surged in others including Rev. Kyles, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, and Jessie Jackson as evident by their work during the years that followed.  

Today is a day in which each of us can allow the strength of Dr. King to surge in us in order to engage in social struggles to right social wrongs.  

Begin by taking the time to read one of the following inspiring speeches by Dr. King:


[1] David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross, 1986; p. 623.

[2] Ibid.

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