Saint Francis of Assisi
Rachel Carson
  Dorothy Day
  Mohandas Gandhi
  Jiddu Krishnamurti
  Dalai Lama
  Martin Luther King
  Nelson Mandela
  Anita Roddick
  Eleanor Roosevelt
  Albert Schweitzer
  Mother Teresa
  Desmund Tutu
Chair in Ethical Management
HEC Montreal


One night, after another day of repeated threatening phone calls, Martin Luther King couldn't sleep. It seemed as if all his fears came down on him. “I was frustrated, bewildered, (…). I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.” Sitting in the kitchen, with his head in his hands, he prayed aloud. "Lord, I'm down here trying to do what is right. I think I'm right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now, I'm faltering. I'm losing my courage. (…) The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone." Then Martin experienced a spiritual presence and heard an inner voice: "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And I will be with you. Even until the end of the world." As at once, his fears left him and his uncertainty disappeared, “I was ready to face anything”.
A few months before, King had been called by his fellow pastors to a perilous leadership position and he had accepted despite the danger. With extraordinary persistence and determination he helped African-Americans change the American society. He led them to find courage and to believe in non-violent actions for freedom. His leadership and eloquence made him one of the most effective and respected civil right leaders of the American history. But King was not only a leader driven by a desperate need for Black people to gain self-respect and dignity, he was also a dreadful opponent mantled in the appearance of a peaceful pilgrim. His unceasing struggle and his original strategy were shaped by four major influences: Ghandi's concept of satyagrapha or true force; the Bible’s teachings on love; Reinhold Niebuhr's concept of social evil and Hegel's dialectic. To the eyes of the world, he exposed America’s racism and ultimately gained the support of the white majority and the intervention of the federal government.
The Civil Rights Movement unquestionably propelled Martin in his leadership position, but the Movement gained tremendous momentum and achievements through his leadership. Carried by forces beyond his control, his fame grew internationally. He assuredly was not perfect and at one point his personal life became reckless. But, day after day, his leadership abilities expanded enabling him to achieve his purpose.

His life and leadership are a source of inspiration for organizational executives, managers and employees, groups and teams because, behind the legend, there is as a man, a simple man who accepted a responsibility, a terrible mission heeded upon him. Confronted to a crushing challenge, he quickly became aware of his limits and inabilities. So he learned to depend on God and continued despite oppositions and sometimes flagrant failures. King was not born natural leaders, as a child, he was introverted and shy. But he became more and more was hungry for justice. Driven by a deep sens of dignity, he searched and found a method to overpower injustice in the American society and realize his goals.

King became a mainstream martyr of the Black consciousness. Shortly before his death, he had resolved to wholeheartedly and uncompromisingly follow his conscience proclaiming that the time had came for real prophesy. He fought with a wider and more integral conception of justice against war, poverty and racial injustice. He went to the point of declaring his own government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." In 1968, Martin died in his blood, shot in the neck on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel.

Top of page

Key documents on Martin Luther King

Autobiography: Carson, Clayborne (Ed.) (2001). The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., New York: IPM/Warner Books. “Though we lost him far too soon, his words and deeds continue to inspire, to provoke, to educate, and to comfort. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., compiled from King's own words, reveals the man behind the legend (from the editors).”
Biography: Ling, Peter J. (2002). Martin Luther King, Jr., New York: Routledge. "Did Martin Luther King, Jr. deserve the praise heaped upon him or was he a media creation, carried along by forces beyond his control? This new biography of the most celebrated African American in history provides a thorough re-examination of both the man and the Civil Rights Movement, showing how King grew into his leadership role and kept his faith when the movement weakened after 1965 (from the publisher)."
Essential Writings: King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1991). A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., San Francisco: Harpers. ”Reveals the breadth and depth of [King's] philosophical thinking, his tough-mindedness, and the sophistication and forensic skill that he could bring to argument” (The New Yorker)
Other: Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 1988.. New York: Simon and Schuster. “Branch took home multiple honors - including the Pulitzer Prize - for this sweeping examination of America, race, and the emerging Civil Rights effort. King is very much of his age, yet ahead of the times. Epic in scope, rich in detail, Parting the Waters is Branch's first volume of a planned trilogy on King (from the editor).”

Encyclopedia: Bradley, David and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, (Ed.) (1998). The Encyclopedia of Civil Rights in America. 3 volumes. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe.


Black Americans of Achievement Videorecording. (1992). Bala Cynwyd, PA: Schlessinger Video Productions.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Historical Perspective. (1994). Santa Monica, CA: Xenon Entertainment Group: Xenon Home Video.

Extending the Dream: Learning, Leading, Living. (1994). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast. Indianapolis, IN: Office of Integrated Technologies.

Top of page

Key Websites on Martin Luther King

The Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University:

Time Magazine:

LIFE’s website:

The Seattle Times:

Encyclopedia: Martin Luther King Jr.:

Top of page