Topic: COMMUNITY INTEREST
Martin Luther King: Honor
More than ever, I am respectful of those who paved the way for our American freedom. I have read stirring words from the founding fathers that have inspired me to work to maintain what they had first established.
Since his tragic murder in 1968, our nation has remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since 1983, when his birthday became a federal holiday, we have formally commemorated his legacy on the third Monday of January. The first MLK Day featured events all over the country, and a bust of Dr. King was dedicated at the U.S. Capitol.
Over the years, we have all had different ways of celebrating the man and his message.
Today, we tend think of the battle over “civil rights” as a fight over money and privileges. Forgotten in much of the contemporary rhetoric is the fact that the early days of the Civil Rights Movement were simply about demanding that everyone recognize the full humanity of African Americans. In fact the striking sanitation workers in Memphis—the very event where King would speak the night before his death—were carrying signs that simply read: “I am a man.”
The Americans who marched with Dr. King wore the cleanest, neatest clothes they could afford because they were championing the idea that they were worthy of respect and equal protection under the law. Freedom, as the founders of our country and the Civil Rights leaders understood it, was not a license to behave any way they chose. It was indeed the right to pursue happiness as they saw fit, as long as it did not harm or encumber others. But it was taken for granted that such pursuits would be grounded in self-respect, as well as respect for others. They knew that to be the only way that freedom does not give way to chaos.
Yet since all the legislative gains bought with the blood of Dr. King and many others, it seems there is a movement to diminish the humanity of Americans again. From obscene song lyrics and videos to sociopathic behaviors featured on the evening news, dress and conduct that would have horrified Dr. King and his followers has been romanticized as what it means to be authentically “black.”
How ironic, that African Americans fought so hard to be respected as equals, only to have so many voluntarily degrade themselves. In his famous I Have a Dream Speech, Dr. King urged, “We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: ‘For Whites Only.’” Yet today, too many of our children are casting their dignity aside. And of course these problems extend far beyond the black community.
On the day we remember Martin Luther King Jr. and his importance to our society, we should reflect on him as not only a man of perseverance and soaring oratory but as a moral philosopher who led souls.
His majestic words are chronicled in the widely quoted “I Have a Dream” and “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” but the accuracy of his moral compass was evident long before in lesser-known speeches, sermons and writings.
The year was 1960, and King’s speech to a conference of the National Urban League revealed an introspective moral tone that served notice of the universality of freedom and human rights. The “struggle for human dignity is not an isolated event,” he said in an address titled “The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” delivered to an overflow crowd. “It is a drama being played on the stage of the world with spectators and supporters from every continent.”
To King, the liberation movements that had begun to end colonialism in Africa and Asia, and the still-to-come March on Washington, the Selma and Birmingham campaigns, and Mississippi Freedom Summer were all part of a larger, unified human milieu. Embodied in each was the awakening of the self-respect that allows a person to toss off the yoke of oppression and “come to feel that he is somebody.” It knows no color or border, King would say, and it inspires people “with a new determination to struggle and sacrifice until first-class citizenship becomes a reality.”
With heads held high, millions would march and sacrifice blood and sweat for voting rights, fair public accommodations and educational opportunities. Buttressing those political goals were loftier spiritual truths. “The primary reason for our uprooting racial discrimination from our society is that it is morally wrong,” King would remind the audience that day and marchers every day. “It relegates persons to the status of things. Whenever racial discrimination exists it is a tragic expression of man’s spiritual degeneracy and moral bankruptcy. Therefore, it must be removed not merely because it is diplomatically expedient, but because it is morally compelling.”
Generations have lived and died since King delivered those words, their meaning still searingly resonant. In those words was the riveting truth that no one is truly free until everyone is free. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he said, and “no American can afford to be apathetic about the problem of racial justice. It is a problem that meets every man at his front door.”
King’s voice could capture a spirit and was filled with ideas for the good not only of black Americans in Southern fields or Northern factories, but of all people in all hemispheres. It is the reason his voice will live forever as a great American and leader of humanity.
Full text to the "I Have A Dream" speech:
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
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, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. 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. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
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.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, 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 the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little 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.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to 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!"
Posted by tammyduffy
at 4:32 PM EST