By Manny Ita
Two people who shaped world events in the 20th century were the duo of Martin Luther King Jr and Sir Winston Churchill; one as a military technocrat and Prime Minister of Britain and the other an African American civil Rights activist.
On January 241965 when Sir Winston Churchill passed on, he had lived a ripe age with a string of achievements at age 90.
I get reminded of his countryman, Sir William Shakespeare’s quote in his book Julius Caesar on the great King’s funeral that “ When beggars die no comets are seen, but even the heavens blaze forth to the death of earthly princes”.
True indeed. Churchill’s funeral was the largest state funeral in world history up to that time with representatives from 112 nations in attendance, and mourned by millions across the globe who watched the funeral on television.
Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. He was born on 30 November 1874 in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, into an aristocratic family. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a prominent politician while his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (née Jennie Jerome), was the daughter of an American millionaire.
Martin Luther King Jr was a pastor, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African American Civil Rights Movement. He was born Michael King in Jan. 15, 1929, but his father changed his name in honor of the German reformer Martin Luther.
In the United States of America, the activities of Martin Luther King Jr’s American Civil Rights Movement were at its peak before his dramatic death three years after Churchill’s. The goals of this movement was to abolish racial discrimination in many areas including public transportation, employment, voting, and education lasted from around 1955 to 1968. In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, while organizing a march in support of equal pay for garbage collectors there. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities.
Both men impacted humanity in unique ways, employing their oratorical skills to their advantage. As prime minister of the United Kingdom, Churchill refused to sign a peace treaty with Nazi Germany and motivated the British Empire through his powerful speeches to keep resistance alive. A highly skilled orator, Churchill made iconic speeches one of which was in June 1940, warning that “the Battle of Britain” was about to begin. He refused to sign a peace treaty with Nazi Germany and motivated the British Empire through his powerful speeches to keep resistance alive.
King’s oratorical skills began manifesting at an early stage. He became known for his public speaking ability and was part of his school’s debate team. During his junior year, he won first prize in an oratorical contest sponsored by the Negro Elks Club in Dublin.
One of his iconic speeches was his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, when he and other leaders of the civil rights movement organized a huge march for equal rights in Washington, DC. With a massive crowd of over 200,000 followers, the march was the largest gathering in Washington, DC’s history; protesting racial discrimination in employment, racial separatism in schools, demanding minimum wage for all workers. Memphis was the site of that famous speech. There, King established among White America what Black Americans already knew, his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.
Churchill, on the other hand, was adept in military tactics and formations, with impeccable records of his military exploits attesting to that. With his years of military and political experience, he helped inspire British resistance in the nation’s struggle and led active opposition against Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. As the Prime Minister he is credited to have led Britain to victory over the seemingly undefeatable Nazi Germany.
During the war he created and took up the additional position of Minister of Defence, and put the industrialist and newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook, in charge of aircraft production. Due to this, Britain was able to quickly increase its aircraft production, strengthening its position in the war.
King was an advocate for nonviolent protest. His strong belief in non-violent protest helped set the tone of the movement. Boycotts, protests, and marches were eventually effective, and much legislation was passed against racial discrimination. His non-violent approach to protesting, his legions of followers, and his true belief in the ability of mankind to live in peace went a long way toward advancement of civil rights during that tumultuous time in history.
Both heroes had stints with journalism or media work. At the age of 13, King became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station for the Atlanta Journal in 1942. For someone who did not like formal education, Churchill went on to become one of the greatest writers in his time. In 1896 while in the army, he was transferred to British India where he worked as both soldier and journalist on the North-West Frontier in 1897. His journalistic works became very popular during this period and helped to establish him as a successful writer. He was war correspondent for ‘The Morning Post’ and went to South Africa to cover the Second Boer War between Britain and the Boer Republics which broke out in 1899. There he was captured and taken prisoner by the Boers but he made a dramatic escape and returned successfully to Britain, and in 1990, he wrote about his experiences in the book ‘London to Ladysmith’.
A prominent writer, Churchill wrote ‘The Second World War’, a history of the period from the end of the World War I to July 1945. The book was a major commercial success in both Britain and the U.S.
Churchill and King were both recipients of the Nobel Prize; Churchill for Literature and King for Peace. Winston Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” He was named the Greatest Briton of all time in a 2002 BBC poll based on approximately a million votes from BBC viewers.
King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence on Oct. 14, 1964. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Another interesting fact about the two icons is the fact that their fathers had remarkable influence in their career paths, both taking after the footprints of their fathers.
Born into an aristocratic family, Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a prominent politician, whose son surpassed his political feats to become one of the world’s greatest leaders. On the other hand, Martin Luther King Jr’s father was a clergyman as a pastor of the Baptist Church. He was also an activist, whose son also surpassed his feats in fighting discrimination of blacks, a struggle which reached a crescendo in America and spilled into other parts of Europe and indeed the world over, remarkably in non- violent and highly subtly effective strategies.
A marked difference between the two was perhaps the fact that, Churchill detested formal education and did poorly at Harrow School, a boarding school near London where he was sent in 1888, but however developed a love for English language.
After leaving Harrow in 1893, he applied to attend the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. After initial failed attempts to pass the test, he eventually got selected, graduated in December 1894 and was commissioned as a cornet (second lieutenant) in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars inn.
King attended Booker T. Washington High School growing up. A precocious student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grades of high school. At age 15, King passed the exam and entered Morehouse.The summer before his last year at Morehouse, in 1947, an eighteen-year old King made the choice to enter the ministry after he concluded the church offered the most assuring way to answer “an inner urge to serve humanity”. In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., from which he graduated with a B.Div. degree in 1951. He was elected president of the student body. King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his PhD. Degree in 1955.
Both Churchill and King made sacrifices and contributions that affected humanity and shaped global events.
Winston Churchill left huge imprints on both the military and political terrains of the United Kingdom.
In 1897, Churchill fought against a Pashtun tribe in Malakand—now in Pakistan—under the leadership of General Jeffery. After the victory of the British Army he wrote an account of the fight, which was published in 1900 as ‘The Story of the Malakand Field Force’ for which he received £600.
Transferred to Egypt in 1898, he served in Sudan under the command of General Herbert Kitchener. There he participated in the Battle of Omdurman before returning to Britain. Churchill resigned from the British Army in May 1899.
He then ventured into politics and became a Member of Parliament for Oldham in 1900. Initially a member of the Conservative Party, he moved to the Liberal Party in 1904. Eventually he was appointed to the prime minister’s cabinet as president of the Board of Trade. Before long, he soon established himself as a successful politician and was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911.
During World War1 in 1917 he was appointed minister of munitions for overseeing the production of tanks, airplanes and munitions. After the war he served as minister of war and air and colonial secretary from 1919 to 1922.
He was made the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he re-joined the Conservative Party. In this position he made a decision that rubbed off badly on his political career when he returned Britain to the Gold Standard. This resulted in widespread unemployment that led to the General Strike of 1926; a huge mistake.
The conservatives were defeated in the 1929 general election, leaving Churchill estranged from the party’s leadership. He returned to prominence in 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany following the outbreak of the World War II. He was once again made First Lord of the Admiralty, and became a member of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s small War Cabinet.
Before long he became the chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. In April 1940, Germany invaded and occupied Norway, in the wake of which Chamberlain resigned. Winston Churchill, aged 65 at that time, succeeded Chamberlain as the prime minister under these highly trying circumstances.
The destructive World War II finally came to an end in 1945. Surprisingly though, Churchill was defeated in the general election in July 1945 despite all his war time achievements.
He subsequently accepted the role of leader of the parliamentary opposition, though shocked by his defeat, and remained active in world politics.
Following the general election of October 1951, Winston Churchill became the prime minister once again, at the same time holding the office of Minister of Defence from October 1951 to March 1952.
During the 1950s his health began to deteriorate and he was finding himself unable to perform his duties. Thus he reluctantly resigned as the prime minister in 1955.
He was the first person to be proclaimed an Honorary Citizen of the United States in 1963 by U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Churchill got married to Clementine Hozier in 1908 and they had five children. Their marriage was a happy one, marked by mutual love and respect. Five children were born to them, of which one died as a child.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did many things to bring greater equality to America and to ensure civil rights for all people regardless of race by bringing publicity to major civil rights activities and efforts, emphasizing and encouraging the importance of non-violent protest and resistance as well as providing leadership to the African-American civil rights movement.
His non-violent approach to protesting, his legions of followers, and his true belief in the ability of mankind to live in peace went a long way toward advancement of civil rights during that tumultuous time in history.
His genuine desire for the country to come together was ultimately recognized as a great contribution to America; his untimely death was a loss to everyone and started an era of great potential for the nation.
Because of his commitment to peace, non-violence and equality for all, King’s protests on behalf of civil rights were able to make genuine headway in American society and allowed Martin Luther King to contribute a great deal to the success of the civil rights movement.
Even as his oppressors exercised force and brutality, King’s insistence on avoiding violence, which he also taught his followers to practice, was a major factor in the respect and acknowledgment given to the civil rights movement during a time of unrest and unease in the country.
Non-violent protests and civil disobedience during this time caused many crisis situations where the government had to take action. These showed the inequities and injustice that was happening to Blacks. The protests were done with sit-ins, marches, and boycotts. Notable legislation during this time included the:
Civil Rights Act of 1964 – This banned discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on “race, color, religion, or national origin”.
Voting Rights Act of 1965 – This act restored and protected the right to vote.
Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965 – This allows immigration from groups other than those from the traditional European countries.
Fair Housing Act of 1968 – This banned housing discrimination for sales or rentals.
The civil rights movement was concerned with the basics of dignity, respect, freedom, and equality.
In the final years of his life, King expanded his focus to include poverty and speak against the Vietnam War, alienating many of his allies with a 1967 speech titled “Beyond Vietnam.”
As the leader of the SCLC, King maintained a policy of not publicly endorsing a U.S. political party or candidate so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both—not the servant or master of either. He advocated for economic compensation to Black Americans, as well as other disadvantaged Americans for historical wrongs, and proposed a government compensatory program of $50 billion over ten years to all disadvantaged groups saying, it would bring about a spectacular decline in school dropouts, family breakups, crime rates, illegitimacy, swollen relief rolls, rioting and other social evils
To honor him, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. A federal holiday was declared in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor. In addition, a county was rededicated in his honor. A memorial statue on the National Mall was also opened to the public in 2011.
Both men were great and true heroes who helped shape the course of history, humanity and freedom. They will forever remain memorable.
Whether one is a greater hero than the other would render a subjective view, in the face of their peculiar accomplishments and rewards, but one thing remains certain, their lifetimes and actions have had a huge impact on the way humans think and behave through the ages.