Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, January 15th, is a holiday in the United States. He was an incredible leader, speaking and organizing across the country and giving many famous speeches including the infamous “I have a dream” speech. He was a leader of the civil rights movement. He helped organize bus boycotts and marches to fight systemic racism; he opposed the Vietnam war and spoke about nonviolence and peaceful forms of protest; he created the “Poor People’s Campaign” to demand a guaranteed family income and a US government that addressed the plight of many Americans. He was a man of many dreams.
Dr. King also had strong views on family planning and he spoke about the need to address population growth to ensure a healthy and sustainable future.
“Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess,” he wrote. “What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims.”
This came from a speech that Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, delivered on May 5, 1966 called “Family Planning – A Special and Urgent Concern by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” Last minute developments in the civil rights movement made it impossible for Dr. King to attend, so his wife went in his stead to accept the Margaret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood. When Mrs. King delivered his speech, the world population was 3.4 billion. Fifty-one years later, global population has more than doubled from 3.4 to 7.5 billion and it’s estimated that 50 percent of births today are unwanted or unplanned.
“Like all poor, Negro and white, they have many unwanted children…There is scarcely anything more tragic in human life than a child who is not wanted. That which should be a blessing becomes a curse for parent and child,” Mrs. King read.
Dr. King wrote about how young black men had a fundamental need, and a human right, to be able to choose when and if to have children. He wrote, “…intelligent guides of family planning are a profoundly important ingredient in his quest for security and a decent life.”
Today, we thank Martin Luther King Jr for his contributions on so many fronts. And we vow to keep working to protect the health and rights of people domestically and around the world.