“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in America was an inspiration for campaigners in the north of Ireland. They encouraged nonviolent protests, aiming to force the Northern Irish government to change their ways by large demonstrations of up to 15,000 people.
Although these peaceful protests did not last long, as the extreme wings of both sides turned to violence, there are still signs of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s influence in Northern Ireland. In Derry, in particular, King appears in many murals as a symbol of peaceful, nonviolent protest for civil rights. One mural includes the closing part of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which would have resonated strongly with the people of Northern Ireland:
“I have a dream… we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!’”
True to his reputation as a voracious scholar, King was studied the work of many great minds, from Henry David Thoreau to Mahatma Gandhi and, Daniel O’Connell, a figure still revered in Ireland today for his role in Catholic emancipation and a fierce opposition to slavery.
O’Connell is known as the first great Catholic nationalist and he was very close to African American abolitionist and author, Frederick Douglass, whom he met in 1845 when Douglass, a freed slave, spent four months in Ireland on a speaking tour. O’Connell is credited as the creator of the mass nonviolent peaceful march.
At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
On the evening of 4 April 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.
King’s main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the U.S. Just days after King’s assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Title VIII of the Act, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibited discrimination in housing and housing-related transactions on the basis of race, religion, or national origin (later expanded to include sex, familial status, and disability). This legislation was seen as a tribute to King’s struggle in his final years to combat residential discrimination in the U.S.