Martin Luther King, Jr., was the subject of constant threats.
Because of his position as the de facto leader of the civil rights movement, it is perhaps as unsurprising as it is unfortunate that so many trolls and terrorists tried to intimidate him.
By the time King was the face of the movement, he said he hardly went through a day without hearing of some plot against his life. And, this being well before the age of Twitter threats and comment section bullying, the threats that came to King came directly—unfiltered by the sort of digital anonymity we have today.
He received anonymous telephone calls, letters in the mail, tips from friends and allies, and even police warnings.
In the face of relentless terrorizations, how and why did King keep going?
“Because I have a job to do,” he said.
If I were constantly worried about death, I couldn’t function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility philosophically. I must face the fact, as all others in positions of leadership must do, that America today is an extremely sick nation, and that something could well happen to me at any time. I feel, though, that my cause is so right, so moral, that if I should lose my life, in some way it would aid the cause.
King came to terms with omnipresent danger simply by refusing to let it control him. Only, we all know it’s not simple.
Plenty of people can’t bring themselves to walk around Chicago in the evening for fear of what may happen. How much more did King have to be concerned about—a target on his back, threats targeting him specifically, pressure mounting—and yet he persisted.
He also took comfort in the righteousness of his cause, and this I find most fascinating. He recognized—almost certainly without joy, but with nothing less than full commitment—that he was willing to die because he knew he was in the right. Death would only vindicate and fuel that rightness.
Do we have such conviction? Such commitment?
King told a story about a trip to Mobile, Alabama. Before going on the trip, he received a call from civil rights leaders in the city who told him a guerilla group led by ex-military had intentions to kill him.
I was strongly urged to cancel the trip, but when I thought about it, I decided that I had no alternative but to go on into Mississippi.
He decided he had no alternative. He could not sacrifice the grand mission for his personal safety.
Surely the choice is not always black and white, but if ever we are faced with a choice between personal security and the endeavors of a higher calling, how will we respond?