Freedom in the thought and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Emblem, Erik Steven.
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The purpose of this dissertation is to discover Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s interpretation of freedom. King’s life was dedicated to a pursuit of freedom for African Americans, the poor, and unfree people around the world. This dissertation takes a comprehensive approach to answering the question: What did King envision when he spoke of freedom? To answer that research question I address King’s interpretation of freedom; the significance of freedom to him; and how he hoped to apply freedom in the sociopolitical world? The answers to these questions are sought through the interpretation, and analysis of King’s beliefs as presented in his writings. This dissertation asserts that King’s interpretation of freedom is that people possess the innate ability to decide who they are and how they will be and that each person has the right to actualize her/his will in the phenomenal world. Important to his idea of freedom are some of the components included in the Human Development and Capabilities Approach—especially the conviction that people have the innate right to both substantive and instrumental freedoms. This dissertation argues that King’s idea of freedom was rooted in his experience as an American, an African American and Black Christian; his commitment to the ideas of Christian personalism; his belief that a good state will both protect and provide freedom; and that the moral law of God is on the side of freedom. Questions for further consideration arise out of this dissertation. Is King’s dream too utopian? Is he attempting to overcome the harsh reality that one’s existence is a struggle against the forces that are beyond human capability (e.g., Is he in a way denying death?). Another question that arises from this dissertation addresses the matter of a transcendent moral code. If King’s interpretation of freedom is rooted in God’s law, who is the human arbiter of God’s law? With the growth of secularism in the United States and closeting of religious dialogue in the public square, is it possible to realize King’s dream? These are important questions; however, they do not diminish from King’s interpretation of freedom and the value he placed on realizing freedom in the world.