an american patriot.

There’s a movie topping the box office right now called American Sniper. It has also been nominated for a slew of Academy Awards. I’m looking forward to seeing the film myself. For many moviegoers, the word “patriotic” has been used often to describe Chris Kyle, the subject of the film and author of the source material.

On this day, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, I’d like to remind Americans that patriotism comes in many forms. Patriots don’t always wear camouflage and their weapons of choice are not always AK-47s.

On this day, we honor and observe the historical and societal contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought most of his adult life for equal rights of fellow Americans. King, a Baptist minister from the South began his fight for equality in 1955 when he led a boycott of the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama over Jim Crow laws. For the next 13 years, King led a nonviolent movement of equality for all Americans.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall, Aug. 28, 1963.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall, Aug. 28, 1963.

For most of us, the idea that it is illegal for a black person to keep her seat on a bus if a white person demands it is foreign. The idea that voting, eating at a lunch counter, schools and marriage can be segregated to keep blacks from using the same services as whites is offensive to most Americans. In the 1950s American South, it was a way of life. It no longer exists and Martin Luther King is the main reason for that.

King believed in peaceful, civil disobedience as a means for social change. His enemies responded by bombing his home. His enemies responded by putting him under arrest. His enemies responded by assaulting him with fire hoses and attack dogs. His enemies responded with bullets. What was King’s weapon that threatened people so much? What made him so dangerous and threatening? Did he have a nuclear bomb at his disposal? Did he take hostages? Did he bomb coffee shops? No. King’s most effective weapon was his intellect, his oratory skills and his refusal to let the establishment off the hook.

Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. He was murdered because he never stopped believing a person should be judged by the content of his or her character, not by the color of skin.

While I would never say a man or woman who serves in the military is not a patriot, I would remind people that patriotism comes in many forms. Not all patriots wear uniforms. Not all patriots carry guns. Not all patriots die for their country, for their cause. But patriots all share one common trait: they believe in fighting for the idea that all men are created equal and deserve equality.

On this day, remember Martin Luther King for the man he was: an American patriot.


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