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The Making of a Mind [Book Review].

Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind by John J. Ansbro was published in 1982 by Orbis Books. This is not an ordinary biography of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It does not trace the civil rights movement chronologically, rather it focuses on the influence others’ thoughts had on the great leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I appreciated the focus of the book because it doesn’t simply give Dr. King’s vision, it shares how the vision was created. Before vision, however, let’s go back in time and set up the events involved in the making of this great civil rights leader.

Many factors, events, and people influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a very highly educated middle-class man. He was unquestionably brilliant and started college at age 15. He is remembered today as one of the primary leaders in the civil rights fight. The crusade for civil rights had begun during the 1950’s. An early goal of the movement was to desegregate the American public schools. In May 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown vs. The Topeka Board of Education that “separate but equal” schools were “inherently unequal.” The court ruled that school desegregation should begin at once. Widespread resistance in the South slowed down progress. Federal troops were sometimes called in to enforce desegregation.

To desegregate public transportation, the 26-year-old King led a year-long boycott of the buses of Montgomery, Alabama. The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 was successful. Also successful were many “sit ins” for the purpose of trying to desegregate public buildings and restaurants.

By 1963, King was recognized as the major leader of the American civil rights movement. On August 28, 1963, 250,000 civil rights demonstrators joined in a march on Washington D.C. to show Congress their desire for civil rights legislation. This is the day Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the huge crowd with the “I Have a Dream” speech. [Note: the speech as written didn’t focus on the words “I Have a Dream”. Dr. King was encouraged by an individual in the crowd and followed his intuition in the moment. “Tell us about the dream, Martin,” …and he used the phrase repeatedly.] This speech described his vision of full equality and respect among all people.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed at a motel in Memphis. The peaceful, but vigorous, campaign for equality was suddenly halted due to the assassination of their leader.

Before he was killed, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had taken criticism from others who questioned his leadership style and methods. Often new visions and innovative leadership ideas are questioned, but looking back it is easy for us to see the effectiveness of his approach.

Dr. King was an eloquent man who feared many things for the black race. His biggest fear was the fear of the policy of black rage. He was very much an integrationist and he believed that the policy would “wreak havoc on black America.” He saw the need for the betterment of the black people through self-awareness and economic social betterment.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a strong belief in nonviolent protest. His ideology was centered on the beloved community. King taught that the love you show to your neighbor will hopefully end the ignorance. Martin Luther King, Jr. defined his ideology when he said:

“From the beginning a basic philosophy guided the movement. This guided principle has since been referred to variously as nonviolent resistance, noncooperation, and passive resistance. But in the first days of the protest none of these expressions was mentioned; the phrase most often heard was “Christian Love.”

The movement headed by Martin Luther King was anything but “passive.” King’s goal was to seek friendship and understanding through nonviolent protests. He longed for the day that everyone could get along and be treated equally.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership was a brilliant blend of actions and words. His speaking ability inspired the nation. With his words he was able to grab the attention of America, and the actions of his campaign stood silently and powerfully behind those words. There are many components that made Dr. King such an effective communicator. Let’s look at the famous “I Have a Dream” speech for techniques used by this great leader.

Dr. Martin Luther King was a master with words. He urged all people to resist the human evils of bitterness and hatred and conduct this struggle on a high plain of dignity. He spoke to the entire nation, knowing the incredible power behind the peoples of this nation. He was a leader that realized that his only power was in the people he reached and had backing him.

The effectiveness of his speech delivery is something that has not be equaled to this day. He emphasized his point by repetition – an effective leadership tool – and gave his speeches with well-remembered grace. In the “I Have a Dream” speech repetition was used with these phrases: “With this faith, I have a dream, We refuse to believe, Never be satisfied, and Let freedom ring.”

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a very strong man who stated clear goals and purpose for all actions and demonstrations. It is crucial for effective leaders to let people in on their plan. By doing this they empower others. It is much easier to join a crusade when the end goal is clear, and all realize that individuals not only make a difference to the crusade, they are the crusade.

We are all aware of the impact Dr. King had on the civil rights movement and countless lives, but how can we apply this today? Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind is very easy to relate to today. Simply delve beyond the historical period and into the motivation behind Dr. King’s actions.

Dr. King’s mission was based on love. “…hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity,” he said. He understood the power of hate and knew the only stronger power was love.

“Hate is rooted in fear, and the only cure for the fear-hate is love. Hatred and bitterness never cure the diseases of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it.”

We must rise to a new level and realize that love is the answer to many problems. This is easier said than done. Hate and leadership are opposites. Hate separates people and leadership brings them together.

Community is another aspect of King’s leadership that can be used today. He knew the strength of the group is from individuals, not the leader. He was a personalist, believing whole heartedly in the worth of human personality. He realized the leader simply guides the group toward their common goal or purpose. Two months before his assassination he said in a speech that he didn’t want to be remembered for the Nobel Peace Prize, numerous other awards, or his education. He wanted his eulogy to say Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and love and serve humanity as a drum for justice, peace, and righteousness.

Dr. Martin Luther King never lost sight of his roots or his destination. Both were carefully planned.

The focus of this book was the influence that insights from other things had in constructing King’s plan. Thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi and theologians such as Walter Rauschenbusch and Reinhold Niebuhr aided in the creation of his unique position. This is the most useful application because it encourages leaders to look at what worked and didn’t work for others when inventing their visions and plans. King used his resources and took in all the knowledge he could before coming up with his own position.

He didn’t close his mind. He used his education and views of many philosophers to shape his own position. He did what many leaders are afraid to do, and he followed another’s lead. He saw the wealth of information and wisdom available and utilized it. There is a fine line between carefully weighing others’ opinions in decision making and letting others decide for you. Martin Luther King walked with ease down the line. He was wise enough to look at past examples, but strong enough to decide on his own. This tells us to gather information from others and learn from their experiences but that the final decision must be ours so that we follow-through with personal conviction.

A leader’s actions must be consistent with his/her moral beliefs to be effective. Leaders can’t preach a mission without living, believing, and caring about the people in it. The people are what it is all about, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. emphasized this well.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an optimist in an anything-but-optimistic setting. He was always looking for the light. He didn’t budge on his nonviolent position even though he was often criticized for it. An effective leader must be positive and have enough courage to stick by their decisions.

Let’s close by remembering King’s undying belief in all people, even those who were against the civil rights movement. He had enough inner inspiration to speak in front of the “enemy” and attempt to shed some light on their darkened views. He was not fighting for a certain class, race, or religion. His fight was for Human Rights of all persons. He challenged the social norms because they conflicted with his personal views and values. He taught us an invaluable lesson in leadership: If you really believe, no sacrifice is too great. He valued the simple, important things in life and knew that leadership is not in social class, offices, occupation, or position. Leadership is in people.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind Book Review, November 9, 1994, Dawn Bowmaster, Nebraska Wesleyan University, Introduction to Leadership Course with Professor Anne Castner.