Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

He Had A Dream

Today we celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  In preparation for a series on our website, we posted the full text of that speech on Sunday.  (Read it here.) It was interesting to read it again.  There is so much to that speech that is not captured in the familiar sound bytes you hear over and over again. 

Mlk_march_on_washington The first thing that jumps out at you is how our language changes.  Forty-three years ago, it was perfectly acceptable for King to use the term “Negro” over and over again in referring to his people.  Not only would we not use that term today, it is uncomfortable to even read it.  I suspect that is because of the derivative of that word — what we now euphemistically refer to as the “N-word” — which has come to embody all that was and is ugly and ungodly and wrong about the treatment of black people in America.

The second thing that jumps out at you is the awesome communication skills King possessed.  It is impossible for us to read these words and not hear Dr. King deliver them in his powerful, commanding voice.  It makes you realize anew that Martin Luther King was the right man at the right time in the right place to guide the struggle for civil rights in America in the 1960s.  Not just a masterful communicator, Dr. King was a man of deeply held convictions about justice and Ghandian principles of non-violence. 

If it had not been for Dr. King, that struggle could have easily turned violent. In fact, the foes of civil rights were betting on it.  The March on Washington, where this speech was delivered, was the first time that the many different civil rights groups had come together.  There were many people who addressed the crowd that day, but the day belonged to Dr. King and his belief in non-violence.

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. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. 

That passage also shows Dr. King’s grasp of history.  He knew that the Civil Rights Movement was not just a protest to gain rights for blacks, it was critical to the future of our nation.  If there was no Civil Rights Movement, America today would be an international outcast with no moral authority from which to lead.  How could we have demanded change to the system of Apartheid in South Africa if there were still signs in America that said “whites only”? 

The final thing that jumped out at me as I reread this historic speech was Dr. King’s call to optimism.  The situation may look bleak, he said, but it can and it will change. How we need to hear that today!

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, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…

And with that introduction, Dr. King began the famous last portion of the speech, in which he declares his dream of an America where brotherhood, understanding, and true equality rule, and where we live up to the lofty ideals upon which this nation was founded.

We’re not there yet.  But we’re a lot further down that road due in no small part to the leadership, vision and convictions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

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