Opinion — Dr. King’s Legacy and the True Goal of Education

Published 10:30 am Friday, January 21, 2022

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January. This year, the commemoration will fall on Jan. 17. The National Park Service, as part of its work to share the history and heritage of the United States, described King as “the nation’s most prominent leader in the 20th century struggle for Civil Rights.”

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was born on January 15, 1929. His life’s journey emphasized the value he placed on education and equality. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948. He received a divinity degree from Crozier Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania in 1951, and he earned a doctoral degree from Boston University in 1955.

While still a student at Morehouse College in Georgia, King wrote, “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” His essay, which was published in the campus newspaper, went on to state, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

As Dr. King pursued his own education, he developed a respect for the nonviolent ethics advocated by Mohandas Gandhi during India’s quest for independence. That respect, combined with his Christian faith, led him to launch the nonviolent protest movement in support of civil rights.

Dr. King entered the national spotlight after the arrest of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama. On December 1, 1955, when Parks was returning home from work, she took a seat in a municipal bus’s designated “colored” section. Later, when the “white” section became full, the bus driver ordered her to move so that additional seats could be designated for white passengers. Parks refused to yield her seat. She was arrested for failing to comply with segregation laws. Dr. King organized and directed a boycott of the bus service that lasted 382 days.

During the years that followed, Dr. King served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He helped focus the nation’s attention on racial injustice and he worked unwaveringly to end exploitation and abuse based on race and socioeconomic status. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, which drew a quarter of a million people to protest policies of segregation and discrimination. His work was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in that year, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize.

During the last year of his life, Dr. King focused attention on inequalities stemming from “intolerable conditions that exist in our society.” These included poverty, housing shortages, unemployment and injustice. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968 when he visited that city in support of striking sanitation workers.

The holiday commemorating Dr. King was established by federal legislation in 1983. His legacy continues to inspire people today.

Our work at Southside Virginia Community College is aligned with the goals Dr. King set out to achieve. We are one of the most diverse institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This diversity enriches students’ experiences and better prepares them to embrace Dr. King’s challenge to develop intelligence and character. Students from different walks of life face various challenges, and our task is to create opportunities for success irrespective of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, and other factors. Our motto, “Success Starts Here” applies equally to all.

Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at quentin.johnson@southside.edu.