What's the meaning of the Martin Luther King Jr quote below?
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
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Martin Luther King Jr. said these words in the last speech he gave before he was assassinated. In the speech, he seems aware that his life is soon to end. He says that the worth ("measure") of any person lies in the courage they show in continuing to stand up for what they believe when the going gets tough. It's easy to mouth the right sentiments when you are safe and comfortable, but harder to stand up for them when you might suffer or even have to die for them. It's hard not to interpret this speech as the 39-year-old King speaking about himself. He knew his work was controversial as he spoke out for the unity of all people, the equality of blacks and whites, and against the Vietnam war, yet he went on with his scheduled speeches, showing that he was a man of true courage. It would have been easy to hide out and not speak his truth at this time of threat.
In this same speech, he says that like anyone else, he wishes to live for a long time, but also says that a long life is not the most important thing. It's more important for him to deliver his message of freedom, even if he has to die for it, and he does so by telling his audience that he has been to the top of the mountain and seen the promised land. Because of that, he does not fear any man. His words act to encourage others to stand up for what they believe in, even if it means dying.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known as the main leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the US. During the movement, things were difficult for African Americans. The idea of rising up against a system that had oppressed them was not a comfortable one. But King is saying in this quote that this is exactly the sort of situation where you find out what you are made out of. What he is saying is that it is easy to handle life when things are comfortable and convenient. How you handle that sort of life says nothing about your character. What really shows your character is how you act when times are bad. If you stand up for what is right, even if it's hard, you have a lot more character than if you refuse because you don't want to deal with the "challenge and controversy."
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