On January 18, Americans remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), a Baptist clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the American civil rights movement.

King is best known for the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent methods following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Many believe his influence to have saved many lives by blunting the effect of radical organizations which espoused large-scale violence in the 1960s.

In 1963, King delivered his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he expanded American values to include the vision of a color blind society, and established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history. King received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work – the youngest person ever to be so honored.

King was assassinated in 1968.

The civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s sought to secure equal rights and treatment for African Americans, most of whom descended from the more than 600,000 Africans transported as slaves to what is now the United States in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Slaves living in the ten states then comprising the Confederacy were freed in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation, a war measure enacted by President Abraham Lincoln.

Slavery was made illegal everywhere in the U.S. by the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865.

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Doctrine & Covenants 87:3-5

The existence of slavery in the United States was of deep concern to many Americans from the days of the nation’s founding. In 1832, early Mormon leaders were wrestling with this subject, when it was made known to them by divine revelation that the Southern States would attempt to secede from the Union, triggering civil war and launching an era of conflict that would bring about “the death and misery of many souls.” This revelation, received on Christmas Day 1832 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is noted for the specificity of its details – that the rebellion would begin with South Carolina, and that the Southern Confederacy would eventually seek an alliance with Great Britain for aid in its secession – events that became history nearly 30 years later.

The revelation also makes a fascinating albeit elusive reference to slaves “rising up against their masters,” as seen in the accompanying graphic.

Joseph Smith’s remarkable “Prophecy on War” has been preserved as Section 87 of the Doctrine & Covenants, a scriptural volume of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the following 14-minute clip from the 1997 film Amistad, former President John Quincy Adams makes his historic argument before the U.S. Supreme Court, pleading for the freedom of a group of Africans accused of insurrection against their criminal masters while on the high seas.  This is a dramatic and beautifully produced sequence.

“The number of slaves today remains as high as 12 million to 27 million. Most are debt slaves, largely in South Asia, who are under debt bondage incurred by lenders, sometimes even for generations. Human trafficking is primarily for prostituting women and children into sex industries. This form of slavery is the fastest growing criminal industry and is predicted to eventually outgrow drug trafficking.”

              Wikipedia article on Contemporary Slavery