It would be easy to assume that the stirring words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech affected Americans most of all. His goading of a nation to live up to the democratic principles of its founders was a sharp display of America’s private grief. The wrongs he set out to right were internal and shaming — American sins that stretched back to the days of slavery. When he rose to speak, King was clearly aiming his remarks at his fellow Americans.
But King’s dignified appeal to the better nature of his countrymen had a resonance far wider than just the United States. When he addressed what he called “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” he would inadvertently set off a worldwide movement for racial emancipation. Tangible evidence of the long march he set off on 50 years ago can be found in the endless roads and civic facilities around the world to which the name Martin Luther King has been appended — celebrating the American civil rights leader’s universal cry for a more generous and humane world.
Africans found a particularly poignant message in King’s plea for racial tolerance and his declaration that “the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” It is no surprise that there is a Martin Luther King Road in Lusaka, Zambia, and a Martin Luther King Street in Mpumalanga, South Africa. King’s appeal to the goodness in Americans and the struggle for black liberation in South Africa led by Nelson Mandela were made of the same cloth.
King’s insistence on non-violence stemmed from his devotion to the ideas of pacifist civil disobedience preached by Mahatma Gandhi as a means to throw off British rule in India. The link between the two strands of dignified, peaceful, powerful dissent can be found celebrated all over India, as in the naming of Martin Luther King Sarani, or Street, in the fancy Park Street area of Calcutta.
Harder to fathom, perhaps, is the plethora of Martin Luther King public monuments in France, places like Parc Martin Luther King in the tony Parisian neighborhood of Batignolles, once the home of the Impressionist painter Édouard Manet, and the Collège Martin Luther King in Villiers-le-Bel.