Your turn at bat, Dr. King

When Dr. King's and Rosa Parks' lives intersected, the world changed forever

On the internet, I read a Yahoo question by a curious Brit, “What does ‘step up to the plate’ mean?  I looked it up and it means to take one’s turn at bat, so I assume this is an American saying, but can someone explain the metaphor?”

I’m not a huge sports fan, but I am grateful for the numerous metaphors baseball has given us, and “step up to the plate” is one of my favorites because it has a lot to do with personal responsibility.

But more than that, it also has to do with accepting your calling in life.   “Accepting,” and not “naming.” Some truly special people, not knowing what lay ahead, have stepped up to the plate and lived out a role that was inspired by God, powered by the Holy Ghost, and executed by one who believed it was his or her job to walk the walk of the righteous without giving in to fear or doubt.

Which brings me to Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was well-prepared for his task, to be sure.  But he didn’t choose it. He accepted the call.  In his autobiography edited by  Clayborne Carson, his doctorate from Boston University was about a year old when trouble began brewing in Montgomery.   His life intersected with fate the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, and at that moment in history, he was simply one of many who gathered to discuss the response to this event, the response which became the famous bus boycott.

At that point, they were a bunch of individuals, some representing the NAACP and others representing the interracial Alabama Council on Human Relations, but they needed an organization to lead the boycott.  Thus, very quickly the Montgomery Improvement Association was born.  When it came time to decide on a leader, Dr. King recalled “As soon as Bennett opened the nominations for president, Rufus Lewis spoke from the far corner of the room:  ‘Mr. Chairman, I would like to nominate Reverend M.L. King for president.’  The motion was seconded and carried, and in a matter of minutes I was unanimously elected.”

Now, how many times have we been in that position during PTA board nominations, or any other committee that is trying to pinpoint the unwitting volunteer?   That night Dr. King might have felt both flattered and cornered.  We know the feeling.  But he stepped up to the plate, and this country was never the same again.

That’s what I mean when I say he accepted his calling, but did not name it or seek it.  Martin Luther King was not sitting at graduate school thinking, “When I get home, I’m going to start a civil rights movement.”  He wasn’t thinking, “The next time a black person is treated unfairly, I’m going to start a boycott.”  He was simply there at the right time, and stepped up to the plate.

He also didn’t tell Rufus Lewis, “Sorry, I have a daughter at home.  The wife expects me home at night.”  And he didn’t say, “Listen, I’ll be the VICE-chair.  I’m a busy preacher after all, and I just don’t have the time to devote to heading up this thing.”

Of all the many things I truly respect and admire MLK for, I think the one I admire most is the fact that he accepted his calling.  Stepping up to the plate he said “Not my will, but thine be done,” and took his place among the saints.

The courage it takes to simply accept one’s calling is tremendous.  We would rather name our path in life.  We don’t want to get diverted from what we want to do.  But a few ignore their self-interest and answer the call.  Whatever they do after that is wonderful, but nothing ever happens without that first step up to the plate.



  1. Catherine, what a wonderful, insightful and thought provoking article. It truly made me think. I often wondered what my true calling was in life. Is it taking care of my family, rearing my children, taking care of my husband in his declining years, being a friend to a friend in need, the years I spent working as a nurse? Or is it none of the above? Did I miss my true calling? Do I step up to the plate when the need arises or does inertia win the day? You gave me a lot to think about. Thank you for this lovely article.

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