History is not made by one man or one woman. But there are people whose determination accelerates its progress.

On 15 January 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was born into a Baptist family. Inspired by the example of Mahatma Gandhi and the ideas of civil disobedience of David Thoreau, he became the main reference point in the nonviolent struggle for civil rights and racial equality in the United States.

After the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955, King organised a boycott of bus companies in Montgomery that lasted more than a year.

Soon after, he took the lead in the anti-segregation movement, first through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and later through the Congress of Racial Equality. From the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), of which his father Martin Luther King Senior had already been a leader in Atlanta, he also promoted actions to improve the deplorable living conditions in which the Negro community lived.

In 1960, he took advantage of a spontaneous sit-in by Negro students in Birmingham, Alabama, to launch a nationwide campaign. King was imprisoned and later released through the intercession of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, then a candidate for the US presidency, but he won for blacks equal access to libraries, dining halls and car parks.

In 1963, his struggle reached one of its high points when he led a massive march on Washington in which some 250,000 people participated. There, on 28 August, on the steps of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, he delivered the speech known as I have a dream, which would go down in history as a beautiful plea for peace and equality among human beings.

The time and place chosen for the message were not fortuitous. One hundred years earlier, on 1 January 1863, Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of a bloody civil war, one of the reasons for which was precisely the struggle against the perpetuation of slavery. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforth shall be free.”

A century after, a huge outcry would rise against discrimination and against the war in Vietnam, in which King and his harangues would play a central role. Most of the rights demanded by the movement would be passed with the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

King adapted and developed Gandhi’s concept of non-violence, which he applied through a series of anti-segregationist campaigns and marches that made him the most prestigious leader of the American civil rights movement.

For his efforts and in support of the struggle against racial segregation, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Like Gandhi two decades earlier, he was assassinated in Memphis on 4 April 1968 by common criminal James Earl Ray.

After his death, a large faction of the American Negro movement took a violent path away from King’s inspiration.

What went wrong, Dr. King?

Despite the advances, the formal gains, and to this day, the terrible stamp of slavery lives on in the enormous social inequality suffered by communities of African descent in the United States.

Far from promoting non-violent coexistence, the country has become the main promoter of war, armament and the civilian carrying of weapons in the world.

Beyond the hypocritical discourse on democracy and human rights, the governmental policy of the United States of America has installed military bases and actively interfered in all regions of the planet, undermining the autonomy, freedom and legitimate desire for self-determination of other peoples.

The Essene-Christian inspiration of neighbourly love disappeared from the pulpits, being used for hate speech and the propagation of rigid retrograde moralising.

What went wrong, Dr. King?

Certainly not the message of equality among human beings, nor the coherence of the non-violent methodology to expand the right to a dignified life for all. A methodology that today is embraced by the vast majority of social movements in their struggles for the humanisation of living conditions.

On the other hand, nonviolence should not only be appreciated in terms of its results, but above all in terms of its undisputed character as an upward precept of relations between human beings.

We asked him in the book “The Fall of the Dragon and the Eagle”: “What is really going on in this surprising, brilliant and dark nation, where success is the only possible horizon and failure is a permanent reality? What is happening in this country so feared, admired, loved and hated? What forces are at work in the bowels of this globally active Eagle, supported by many as a symbol of progress and rejected by so many others as the main agent of oppression and violence? What is happening in this land that concentrates at the same time the yearnings of many who would like to live there and the total and absolute repudiation of those who believe that its very existence is the source of all its ills?”

What went wrong then, how did the destiny of this people go awry?

Has the endless quest for success, fame and social recognition led to a monstrous disproportion? Is the status achieved through the consumption of ever more sophisticated goods and pleasures turning this country into an ever more leaning tower of Babel, ready to collapse? Are the puritanism, republican morality and hard-nosed belief in progress that served as the foundation of this piece of synthetic civilisation no longer serving to protect against the end-of-cycle value cataclysm?

Is it the terrible charge of the belief in a manifest destiny, in a self-promulgated exceptionalism, that condemns this people to think themselves superior to others? Is it the biblical heritage of wanting to be the legitimate successor of the “chosen people” by supposed divine decision, that prevents them from abandoning staunch differentiation and living as equals? Or is it the primacy of corporate power, of the much-maligned and feared “military-industrial complex (today also digital)”, that constrains any possibility of free choice?

Will the day come when the American people openly rebel against this macabre vicious circle of domination and dependence on the power of domination?

No doubt it will. Surely that other great tendency, genuinely libertarian (a word today manipulated by sectors that have nothing to do with freedom), which lives in the American people and which surfaced historically in various guises, will once again rise to the surface.

The best of the American soul was what the abolitionist movement generated at the time and then embodied in that unstoppable current for women’s suffrage. That same force re-emerged against racial segregation, drove the non-violent youth movement of the late 1960s and had a great deal to do, more recently, beyond the cosmetic propaganda and the minimal changes that took place, in the highly symbolic election of the first black president.

This powerful momentum will powerfully influence the inevitable future changes in the lands of the Eagle, helping to usher in a new moment in human history.

That is why the memory of Martin Luther King lives on and shines brightly. With the same light that dwells in the hearts of those who work tirelessly for a non-violent world.