Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What’s in a name? | On Faith

Pastor Greg writes about the teachings of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:00pm
  • Opinion

Fifty years ago next Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. blew out 39 candles on his birthday cake. He had no way of knowing it would be the last time he’d hear “Happy Birthday to You” sung to him. Less than three months later, the King of the non-violent civil rights movement would be dead.

The young civil rights leader had packed a lot of life into less than four decades of living. Though Dr. King stood only 5-feet 7-inches tall, he was a giant of a man. Like the One whose Gospel he proclaimed from the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, MLK practiced what he preached. And as was true with Jesus, his enemies robbed him of his life, but they could not silence his call for liberty and justice for all.

I was only 15 year old when Dr. King was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. As such, I was too young to fully appreciate the impact of his life or his death.

Growing up in a mostly white community, far from the Mason-Dixon Line, I was insulated from the gravity of the civil rights movement. Not until I did my own research years later was I able to appreciate the larger-than-life influence of this diminutive prophet. In addition to looking beneath the headlines, I also discovered a rather unusual fact.

Did you know that the name on Dr. King’s birth certificate was Michael King, Jr.? It’s true! On Jan. 15, 1929, when the Reverend Michael King’s wife gave birth to a boy, he informed his congregation that his son would carry his name. The baby would be called Michael King, Jr. But, in the summer of 1934 something happened that would change both their names and the course of history.

The elder King traveled with some of his pastor colleagues to the Holy Land. After “walking where Jesus walked” in Palestine, the group stopped in Germany to attend the Baptist World Alliance. King took advantage of the opportunity to explore the region where the Protestant Reformation had been birthed in 1517. He was particularly impressed by the courageous faith of a young Catholic monk who had stood up to the injustices of his day. The more the elder King learned of Martin Luther, the more he liked.

Upon returning to Atlanta, the Baptist pastor felt compelled to initiate lasting change in his life and in his world. To that end, he petitioned the courts for a change of name for both himself and his son. Michael King, Sr. and Jr. would be henceforth known as Martin Luther King.

King’s 5 year old son entered first grade with a historic name into which he would grow. It would prove to be a name reminding the “preacher’s kid” of a destiny bigger than he could imagine. When tempted to give up, Martin would only need to recall where his new name came from and what it stood for.

And for Martin Luther King, Sr. it meant much the same. A change of name signified a commitment to challenge injustice that continues to fly in the face of the Christian faith. It was a commitment his namesake maintained to his death.

And isn’t it interesting that the 50th anniversary of MLK’s death coincides with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s courageous protest of unjust Church? It is interesting, indeed!

Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos is the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Mercer Island. He is the faith and values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter and contributes original poetry each Blue Friday to KOMO news radio.

More in Opinion

Curtain call for departing Youth Theatre Northwest director

Manny Cawaling was the executive director at YTN for 10 years, in a time of growth and change.

Who to vote for?

“[Adam] Smith or [Sarah] Smith?”

Sign of the times

Deputy Mayor “very troubled by signs that went up over the Island this weekend” regarding levy.

Reflections on a White House visit | On Faith

The inhabitants of the White House aren’t the only ones on God’s radar.

The default in our own stories | Editorial

Senior editor Samantha Pak reflects on what representation in media means to her.

No excuse for fake news rhetoric | Editorial

Journalists are being tossed into the anti-media waters being chummed by the president and others.

Vote no on levy lid lift | Letter

Until our city government demonstrates fiscal responsibility and accountability, please vote “no.”

Betsy Zuber
How seniors can avoid being scammed | Guest Column

Hang up immediately, get caller ID, or get more information.

Cindy Goodwin
How should I cope with my child’s sudden bedtime anxiety? | YFS Advice

At the end of the day someone is sleeping on the floor and obviously this isn’t sustainable.

Mercer Island should stop squeezing more out of taxpayers | Letter

We shouldn’t be comparing our city to other cities that are more profligate than us.

Support for My-Linh Thai | Letter

We are writing to share our support for My-Linh Thai, 41st LD, Position No. 2.

Send a message with no vote on tax increase | Letter

A significant and increasing portion of my living expenses are taxes.