What makes a Prophet?
A prophet, when used in a religious text, is someone who is a messenger between God and humans. Think of Jeremiah, who spoke of doom and destruction to the people of Jerusalem because they had broken the covenant God had made with them.
Fresco painting of Jeremiah in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, 1512 (Pheloya, 2011)
However, through time the definition of a prophet has expanded to become something much broader. Nowadays, we can define a prophet as anyone who makes an effort to draw the public's attention to something they're very passionate about, most often social justice issues.
Martin Luther King Jr. during his speech "I Have a Dream" (Shaw, 2013)
Martin Luther King Jr. is a prime example of a contemporary prophet, his actions and work in progressing the Civil Rights movement in America during the 50s and 60s leading him to become the face of racial integration and the Civil Rights movement in America.
So, what exactly makes a prophet, a prophet? Could it be tireless activism to get your message out to the public?
The Sit-in, 1960 (Seitsema, 2012)
The Bus Boycott (in response to Rosa Parks controversy), 1955 (Mari, 2012)
Perhaps it's speaking outwardly and passionately about the cause, despite all the consequences it may face.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s arrest for the 1960 Sit-in (Beech, 2015)
Arrest at 1963 demonstration, Birmingham, Alabama (Beacon Broadside, 2013)
Or maybe it's inspiring others and encouraging them to make a change and take matters into their own hands.
Prayer for Pilgrimage, 1957 (Henriques, 1957)
Soldier Field, 1964 (Merda, 2015)
Whatever definition you decide to go with, Martin Luther King Jr. can fit it perfectly. King is a stellar example of a modern prophet, and his efforts didn't go unnoticed, either.
Martin Luther King Jr. with the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize (Jones, 2014)
With over a decade of dedicated work and commitment to the Civil Rights movement, multiple arrests, even more speeches and countless supporters, King's dream became much less a dream and more so a reality. Through all this and his work and actions (covered later), he has done more than enough to prove himself worthy of the title of a modern day prophet.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on the 15th of January, 1929 as the middle child of Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King Sr. He had two siblings: his older sister, Willie Christine King (1927-), and his younger brother Alfred Daniel King (1930-1969).
Left to Right: MLK Sr., Alberta King, MLK Jr., Alfred King, Willie King (2017, A&E Television Networks)
Martin Luther King Jr. then married in 1953 to Coretta Scott, and they later had 4 children: Yolanda King (1955-2007) Martin Luther III (1957-), Dexter Scott King (1961-), and Bernice King (1963-).
Left to Right: Coretta King, Bernice King, Dexter King, MLK III, MLK jr., Yolanda King (thinklink, 2015)
Martin Luther King Jr. was a very academically gifted student. Attending Booker T. Washington High School, he skipped both year 9 and year 11 due to his intelligence, and entered Morehouse College (Atlanta) at only 15 years old. He later became Valedictorian of his class in 1951.
Aside from his well known position as a Civil Rights activist, he was also a baptist minister at the Ebenezer baptist church, like his father. His role as a Civil Rights activist became elevated during the Bus Boycott controversy, as he was elected the president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People)
Martin Luther King Jr. in Minister uniform (Christian, 2013)
Martin Luther King Jr. with the leader of NAACP (Fleming, 2016)
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the 4th of April, 1968 when he was standing on the balcony of his room in the Lorraine Motel. He was shot by a sniper's bullet, which was later found to belong to James Earl Ray after a 2 month international manhunt.
James Earl Ray's wanted poster, April 19, 1968 (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2013)
Lorraine Motel (Hobbs, 2016)
Work and action
As mentioned earlier, Martin Luther King worked tirelessly to make not only his visions, but the entire Civil Rights movement's dream a reality.
Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955
Photo of MLK Jr. after the success of the bus boycott (Lauten, 2016)
Back in the early 50s and earlier, public transport was segregated. Black people were made to sit at the back of the bus and white people had the front reserved for them. If there were no seats, a black person had to give up their seat for a standing white person. On the 1st of December 1955, Rosa Parks (42 years old) refused to give up her seat for a white man.
Rosa Parks (Schmitz, 2014)
The bus driver demanded she get out of her seat, and when she still refused, she was arrested and booked for violating City Code. Martin Luther King Jr. and NAACP found this to be an excellent case to challenge Montgomery's segregated bus policy. The night of her arrest, Martin Luther King Jr. and E.D Dixon (head of the local NAACP chapter) to plan a citywide boycott, of which King was to lead.
Left to right: MLK Jr., E.D Nixon, Rosa Parks (Bloom, 2014)
The boycott involved 382 days of everyone involved walking to work, and experiencing harassment and intimidation. King's home was even attacked due to the boycott. However, on December 20th of 1956, the segregation laws in public transport were finally lifted.
The Sit-in (1960)
On the 19th of October, 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. with 75 other students entered a local department store and requested lunch counter service, but they were denied, because restaurant and cafe owners had right to refuse service. King and the others refused to leave, which lead to 36 arrests from the people involved, including King.
An article about the Sit-in (Detroit News, 1960)
Other Noteable Things
- After an arrest about violating his probation on a traffic conviction, this sparked something within the 1960 presidential campaign, where John F. Kennedy expressed concern for King's harsh treatment and he was released soon after
- King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964
- He co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (to harness moral authority and organizing power of black churches) which also helped conduct non-violent protests to promote civil rights reform
Jeremiah, also known as the Weeping Prophet, was born to the High Priest Hilkiah in Anathoth, most likely between 650 and 645 B.C. As a prophet, he sent God's message throughout Jerusalem, foretelling it's doom and destruction for worshipping false gods.
The main false god people worshipped: Baal, who required child sacrifices (Nova, 2016)
Before he was even born, Jeremiah was set aside to be chosen to be a prophet. God called to him when he was only 18-21 years old, telling him to tell the people of Jerusalem of their destruction. Naturally, people didn't take a liking to being told this, and Jeremiah was often backlashed with death threats, hostility and friends and family betraying and conspiring against him.
Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem (Rembrandt, 1630)
Because the people of Jerusalem didn't want to hear it, Jeremiah was persecuted for being foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, and furthermore for being
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“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)
This quote was chosen because equality was King's main message. He wanted a world where his children were not judged by the colour of their skin, but rather their character. We cannot live in this ideal world if we do not love each other equally.
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YouTube. (2013). Martin Luther King, Jr. I Have A Dream Speech. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=31&v=3vDWWy4CMhE [Accessed 19 Mar. 2017].
Moen, C. (2017). Jeremiah the Prophet. [online] Life, Hope & Truth. Available at: https://lifehopeandtruth.com/prophecy/prophets/prophets-of-the-bible/jeremiah-the-prophet/ [Accessed 16 Feb. 2017].
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