I don’t celebrate all major holidays, but I celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Every year I take time to do something special for the day.
Usually I do something to honor his memory and achievements or learn more history. This year I have two things.
First, a friend told me that WNYC just released four in-depth interviews of him. Each is about thirty minutes, so I got to listen to him speak — not a speech or prepared anything. He was thirty-two years old in the first three (in 1961). The fourth was in 1967, with clips from 1966 (he was assassinated about a year later).
I put the clips for you to stream below, but please visit the WNYC site yourself, which has a lot more information.
Second, I looked at the interview, and him, from a new perspective — from a leadership perspective. If you’re American and you’re asked for examples of great leaders, you almost can’t help mention Dr. King in the top few. If you’re looking to learn leadership, it’s hard not to consider Dr. King one of the great historical leaders.
Yet I think most people view him like I normally do, or did — someone to learn from and be inspired by as a historical figure; or just to learn about historically. These interviews helped me see him more human and more someone I could learn from in how to behave day-to-day. It’s easy to forget he lived not that long ago, that people he worked with are around today, and we can still see much of the context in which he worked around us.
By the time of these interviews he wasn’t Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize winner and everything else. In the first he was important and achieved a lot — the Montgomery bus boycott, for one thing. By the second he had come out against the Vietnam War for a broader peace movement, had withstood harsh criticism, and had probably been abandoned by many.
Topics these interviews cover:
- Dr. King’s thoughts and plans before becoming politically active — considering going into law and medicine before the clergy
- Learning from Mohandas Gandhi
- The Montgomery Bus boycott
- Government harassment and reaction to his struggling for freedom
- Public criticism
- Sit-ins and freedom riders
- Personal change and development
- Goals growing and changing as history and he changed
- Black Nationalism in the north, with different goals, some complementary, some conflicting
- The Vietnam War and how it caused him to challenge his beliefs and goals and expand them, even long-standing, deep ones
- Creating effectiveness despite lack of success
- Conscientious objection and Muhammad Ali
Most importantly, he was just a regular guy like you and me before the bus boycott, wondering what to do. He took responsibility. He did what any of us could do.
People ask me what the point of learning leadership is. Because you don’t know when the occasion to use it will arise. If you don’t have the skills to do anything about your situation, you have to accept it at best. If you do, you can do something about it.
November 22, 1961:
December 1966 — February 1967:
Notes on the interviewer
I liked how the interviewer let Dr. King talk. I found some notes on her from WNYC:
Eleanor S. Fischer was a foreign correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the founder of National Public Radioâ€™s New York office. She passed away on August 7, 2008, at the age of 73.
Fischer attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City, where she became an accomplished classical pianist. She received a degree in political science from Cornell University before graduating from Columbia Law School in 1959. Fischer began her career as a lawyer practicing civil rights law, poverty law, and criminal law but in the early 1960s, she changed course and left the law to produce radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for whom she also covered the Israeli Six-Day War. In the early 1970s, she opened the New York City office of NPR, where she continued to produce radio features.
and from Columbia Law School
Eleanor S. Fischer â€™59 was a foreign correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the founder of National Public Radioâ€™s New York office. She passed away on August 7, 2008, at the age of 73.
Fischer attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City, where she became an accomplished classical pianist. She received a degree in political science from Cornell University before graduating from Columbia Law School in 1959.
Fischer began her career as a lawyer practicing civil rights law, poverty law, and criminal law. But in the late 1960s, she left the legal profession to join the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Fischer covered the Israeli Six-Day War and produced radio documentaries on Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Frost, among others. Then, in the early 1970s, she opened the New York City office of NPR, where she continued to produce radio features.
Throughout her adult life, Fischer was active in Democratic reform circles in
New York City and New York state. She was a devoted Mets fan and read
The New York Times every day. She will always be remembered for her lucid, inquiring mind and lively sense of humor, as well her vast contributions to the fields of law and journalism.