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Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Roberto Clemente had deep bond

MLK inspired Roberto Clemente

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we remember how the late Civil Rights leader inspired the Great One Roberto Clemente.

King was one of Clemente’s greatest heroes. The two icons actually spent time together at Clemente’s ranch outside of Carolina, Puerto Rico. 

Clemente even placed Martin Luther King Jr. atop his list of heroes, Pulitzer Prize winning author David Maraniss wrote in his masterpiece, “Clemente.”

“What Clemente admired most about King was not his philosophy of nonviolence, but his ability to give voice to the voiceless,” Maraniss wrote.

Both men lived and died in the service of others. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, where he was supporting striking sanitation workers. 

“When Martin Luther King started doing what he did, he changed the whole system of the American style,” Roberto Clemente said, according to the book. “He put the people, the ghetto people, the people who didn’t have nothing to say in those days, they started saying what they would have liked to say for many years that nobody listened to. 

“Now with this man, these people came down to the place where they were supposed to be but people didn’t want them, and sit down there as if they were white and call attention to the whole world. Now that wasn’t the only the black people but the minority people. …”

Roberto Clemente also gave voice to voiceless

Clemente also gave a voice to the voiceless. In 1971, the Puerto Rican legend was the first person to speak Spanish on a nationally televised English broadcast in the United States. He directed his message to his parents after the Pirates won the 1971 World Series. He asked them for a blessing.

In 1968, he also spoke up for his teammates and other Black players when they prompted Major League Baseball to pause Opening Day until after MLK’s funeral. 

The Pirates were scheduled to open the season on April 8 against the Houston Astros at the Astrodome. They were scheduled to play the second game of the season on April 9. Clemente insisted against playing until after King’s funeral.

Pausing 1968 Opening Day

The Pirates and Astros ultimately didn’t start the 1968 season until April 10. Clemente continued to speak up and help others throughout his career. Unfortunately, he was also a victim of tragedy.

He died on New Year’s Eve 1972 on a relief mission to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. His cargo plane crashed into the ocean off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, soon after takeoff. 

Clemente was only 38 when he died, only a year younger than MLK was when he was assassinated.

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