An influential person 6
The Influential Aspects of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
An Influential Leader
“Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
According to Freud, a person’s identity is fixed in childhood by age five or six (Friedman, 2010). He argued that identity formation is a life process. Freud adopted the view that individuals undergo many changes. An individual’s personality develops through eight stages. The outcome of one stage is very much dependent on the outcome of the previous stage (Friedman, 2010).
Dr. King’s adolescent years prove to bring out so much anger in him. When he was old enough to understand what was going on around him, he eventually became upset at the fact that African-Americans had to go through so much. Like normal children his age he could not go swimming or go to the park, he could not go to a lunch counter; neither could he go to any theater (Carson, 1998). It was during this time that he realized that so many restrictions were put in place for his race that he knew he could not retaliate in any way. This was the age where Martin became aware of the difference between doing what was right versus doing what was wrong. Through this stage Dr. King became willing to choose what was right most of the time.
Furthermore, when he was eight years old, he was in a store in downtown Atlanta when a Caucasian lady slapped him. This brought about so much anger and confusion for Martin because he did not have a clue of what he had done. But because he was the only African-American nearby he had to endure the consequences. This particular incident describes Erikson’s third stage of initiative versus guilt. At this age Martin learned that he needed to be careful in his surroundings when Caucasians were around. He could not say too much or too little. Martin became fearful to take an initiative to speak up against the violence and mistreatment against him. This also played a part in him holding in so much anger against Caucasians, but; there was little he could do.
I do not think that Martin experienced the fourth stage with any problems. He was able to excel while in school. His pure excellence and intelligence allowed him to skip two grades while in high school. Martin was extremely mature for his age which allowed him to start college at the age of fifteen. However, with the level of intelligence that Dr. King displayed, he did, in fact, have some trouble in the fifth stage. Martin’s parents were both ministers and both heavily involved in the church. His sister was also involved in the church and even got baptized when Martin was just a few years old. From this, Martin took on their identities of being involved in the church and then getting baptized when he really did not know what it meant. This event allowed him to experiment with the roles he thought he should have established. While in college, Martin often mentioned that when he was younger he wanted to become a lawyer or doctor when he got older. This eventually changed after he graduated college as he went on to do ministry.
As for Erikson’s sixth stage, Martin did not experience this as much. This was partly due to the fact that African-Americans were so constrained in the things that they could and could not do, that he did not really get a change to interact on a deeper level with others so that they could really get to know him. Erikson’s seventh stage is where Dr. King was able to not only bear children but also give back to the world by ensuring the success of future generations. He had a total of four children, who at the time was growing up in the midst of segregation in the South. His goal of entering ministry and eventually a civil rights activist allowed him to ensure that African-Americans would one day be considered equal. Although this stage explains that though the person achieves worldly goals, life seems meaningless (Friedman, 2010). This was not the case for Dr. King. He made sure that the goals he set out for himself would not only benefit his family and neighbors, but those of the entire country. Furthermore, Erikson’s last stage details of how individuals of old age can often go through periods of despair or not having accomplished much. Through Dr. King passed away at a young age, I do think he accomplished a great amount in his thirty-nine years of life. His main focus started out being his ministry in which he states that it was not a supernatural thing but his inner urge to serve humanity. His later focus was more of giving his life to serving others, being an advocate for justice, peace, and righteousness.
The only stage that Martin experienced where there was a delay was the third stage of initiative versus guilt. Martin had reflected on a situation in which he was on a bus returning to Atlanta, where some Caucasian passengers began cursing him and his teacher. They were ordered to get up from their seats and stand up for a total of ninety minutes (Carson, 1998). This particular incident had a profound effect on him. Dr. King grew up despising segregation and the oppressive acts that resulted from it (Carson, 1998). He remembers seeing police brutality, court injustice of African-Americans, and the witnessing of lynchings. All of these things did something to Martin and the way his personality developed. With all of these things happening around him, Martin could not voice his opinions to anyone but family. It is though he learned at a young age that sometimes the best response is no response at all. But as he grew he developed enough confidence to actually take initiative and do what was right for the sake of his people. This stage affected him for a short amount of time until he was able to graduate college and starts his ministry. His ministry is what led him to excel in all the other stages. He was able to finally have a voice and speak on things that he desperately knew were wrong at a young age.
In conclusion, Dr. King’s adolescent years had a lot to do with how his personality developed. He was a witness to so many degrading and hurtful things done to his people that it brought out much anger in him. This anger led to his resentment of the other race because he still could not understand how he was supposed to feel about the mistreatment and injustice around and against him. Aside from his developing anger and many questions of why, his parents always taught him to never hate Caucasians but it was his duty as a Christian to love them. His personality development was one that provided him with the goals he needed later in life to assist others. I think the way in which he personality developed was a way for him to finally stand up for himself and speak out.
Carson, C. (1998). The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Warner Books. New York. 374 pgs.
Friedman, H., & Schustack, M. (2010). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th Ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.