Incredible People: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I know that because my in-laws are visiting (since they don’t have to drive their school busses today). I am not a very good observer of holidays in general. My thinking is that we should honor whomever we are honoring more than just one day per year. (And anything can become meaningless when you just do it out of habit…)

But today I was reminded of a post that I started last September. (Yes, I have really neglected writing over the past six months or so…)

I began writing about MLK’s “Dream” speech. The famous one… you’ve heard it. What happened was… well, read on below…

Last summer, Glenn Beck hosted a gigantic rally in Washington, DC on August 28th at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial—the day and location of the historic Martin Luther King Jr. speech, “I Have A Dream

There was a “backlash” in the news, and even a “counter rally”. Accusations were tossed around of trying to co-opt the day… hogwash. The notion that Martin Luther King Jr. belongs to any one group of people is nearly flat-out denying the substance of all that he said.

As I was listening to all this talk about MLK—who he was, what he thought, what he said, what he stood for—I decided that I really didn’t know a lot about him first hand, so, I began investigating. I began, of course, with his most famous speech, “I Have A Dream”. It’s famous for a reason.

I found his speech online and we read it together as a family back in early September last year. It was shorter than I imagined, actually … but very to the point. The dream he spoke of was that one day there would be no colors, no division. One day, all of us would live together as equals. I think his courageous efforts to stand against injustice—leading other people to do the same—went a long way toward improving that in our country, but there are still so many “us” vs. “them” divisions (not necessarily, or at all, based on skin color) that sadly, I’d say we have a long way to go still. Perhaps we’ll never fully realize his dream this side of heaven, but it doesn’t hurt to keep trying, keep encouraging each other toward it.

The text this speech can be found here, and I will quote most of it below, highlighting some of the spots we thought were the most interesting/thought-provoking/great.

The speech begins with historical context. They were gathered at the feet of the Lincoln memorial. At the symbolic feet of the man who ended slavery. But the segregation had not ended. King said, “[the Negro] finds himself an exile in his own land.”

Then he said:

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

All men. I believe that the people who founded our country believed that. There are many stories and evidences to show that, though for hundreds of years there had been a culture of slavery that was more than abhorrent, many (perhaps most) did not support it, or even opposed it. But that’s not what I want to highlight here… I think it’s great that MLK was an American. Not an African-American, but an American… this was his “land”. And he took the words of our founders literally: That all men would be guaranteed—equally—these inalienable rights.

So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

I don’t think most of us today realize how important these two things are. We all live in relative freedom, purchased by many who have come before us. Perhaps many of us have known injustice. But in general, we think of riches more as material things rather than these more basic, more fundamental rights.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

This was an amazing paragraph. How strong is the dark power of bitterness and hatred. It clouds our judgment, fills our heart with darkness. It is definitely powerful, and in a bad way. King was right to acknowledge it, but emphasize that those who were perhaps justified in feeling it must not remain in it, or allow it to remain in them.

In another speech King said, “So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, ‘I love you. I would rather die than hate you.’ And I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed.” He was right.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

King saw the true American dream. Self-evident truth: all men are created equal. The founders knew it. They may not have fully lived it out, but they knew it. MLK knew that those rights were given to each person by God. It didn’t matter what your skin color was or what country you were from or how much money you had… those are all external things. If we could all get past those things then we would be an oasis of freedom and justice. We would be a nation who judges “not by the color of [our] skin but by the content of [our] character.”

Incredible people are definitely uniquely gifted by God in some ways, but more often, they are just regular people who believe in something, and whose convictions (and usually their deeply rooted faith in God) allow them—perhaps require them—to stand up for what is right. To do what is right. Martin Luther King, Jr. was another incredible person, and definitely worthy of a place of honor in our nation and around the world.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

(note: Today, 1/17/11, the server was overloaded on that I Have a Dream link above! You can find the text of the speech (and that page) via the Way Back Machine here.)

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