A Reflection on MLK Day

Although the writings of Peter Drucker mention Martin Luther King, Jr. only in passing, Drucker followed the civil-rights movement with interest and enthusiasm. The denial of equal rights to black Americans was something Drucker deplored, calling it the “great sin of segregation and racial discrimination.”

Of particular interest to Drucker was the enthusiasm with which younger Americans embraced the crusade for civil rights during the 1960s—and found themselves shaped by it. “It gave the campus generation the Cause it had been waiting for: a cause of conscience,” Drucker wrote in Men, Ideas, and Politics. “The young people are much closer in their views on civil rights to the abolitionists of a century ago than they are to yesterday’s liberals. The oppression of the Negro is to them a sin rather than a wrong.”

This, in turn, led young people to unexpected feats. “Civil rights has offered scope for individual initiative and effectiveness, something society otherwise does not readily grant to men or women in their early twenties,” Drucker observed. “There are the students, white and colored, who have gone South to teach in the Freedom Schools. There are the white college girls up North who in considerable numbers venture into the meanest Negro ghettos of the big cities to tutor or counsel, often entirely on their own.”

One might say that great achievement can be attained through the fight against great sin.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Having fled Nazi Germany, Drucker had certainly seen plenty of pure wickedness. And in his memoir, Adventures of a BystanderDrucker offered this thought: “The greatest sin may be the new 20th-century sin of indifference, the sin of the distinguished biochemist who neither kills nor lies but refuses to bear witness when, in the words of the old gospel hymn, ‘They crucify my Lord.’”

What do you consider the greatest sins of today?