Because he tried to kill himself. Not once, but twice. And we can learn from that.
Time tells us this in the "Man of the Year" article about Dr. King. (The excerpt is quoted in A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi, reviewed on this blog last year.)
Twice, before he was 13, he tried to commit suicide. Once, his brother, "A.D.," accidentally knocked his grandmother unconscious when he slid down a banister. Martin thought she was dead, and in despair ran to a second-floor window and jumped out--only to land unhurt. He did the same thing, with the same result, on the day his grandmother died.I read a few more accounts of the story, about young Martin seeming quite dead, then rising and walking off like a child who had been clobbered by a baseball. It made me wonder, frankly, if he just jumped, as a kid, off trees, perhaps. Kids jump.
But it does seem to have been overwhelming despair that drove him to the ledge. Most of us would point to it as a strong indicator of childhood depression, rather than a grief response. The depression came first.
Ghaemi tells us that by 1966, after Dr. King had accomplished his goals, voting rights for blacks, and desegregation, that he initially felt empty and depressed, even thought he should resign. But Black Power, radical (violent) politics, the very opposite of civil disobedience troubled him, and so did the Viet Nam War.
He spent his last few years fighting for both of them. He did what he could to guilt Lyndon Johnson into ending the war, and he arranged meetings with the powerful radicals, those who believed in revolution. He didn't sleep, worked feverishly through the night, through his depression. A closer read of Ghaemi's biography finds Dr. King's personal struggle to be yet another example of an individual who struggled with mental illness-- his whole life-- and yet, what a life. What a legacy he left us all.
And he didn't take that life in the end. He didn't jump.