Monday, January 16, 2012

He Would Not Turn Back. He Was Murdered.

We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
That was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. laying out the path for achieving his dream in that speech he gave in August 1983 from the Lincoln Memorial to the gathered throng and to the world.
"I have a dream," he said, repeating the words time and again like an incantation.  But despite the dream, the speech is not merely a hope.  It's a call to action and a program.
  • Here's the promise, he says:  What the Framers told us, what Lincoln gave us.
  • Here's the reality, he says: The promise is unfulfilled.
  • Here's where we are, he says: Here. Now.  Because it's time.  It's past time.
  • Here's the program, he says: This is what we can do.  What we must do.  And (albeit in general terms), how we should do it.  Together.  Because we can't do it alone.  And it will be hard.
But here, then, is the Dream.
And 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, and 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."
King was speaking of the need to lift the veil of racism, and then destroy it.  But that wasn't just necessary for Blacks.
When the dream is fulfilled, he said, when the promise is met, then we'll all be "sisters and brothers." The dream wasn't just that Black's would be free but that freedom is for everyone.
It is, of course, an altogether extraordinary speech.  Read the whole thing.  Listen to it.  (You can do both here.)
But hold off because I need now to move you ahead somewhat more than four and a half years.  April 3, 1968.  Memphis, from the Pulpit of the Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ Headquarters.
King was speaking in support of striking sanitation workers.  There was going to be a march the next day, and he would be there. But not just him. He wanted everyone to join.
And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school -- be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base....

Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother.

Which is that theme again, that we're all in it together. 
And there is, again, his vision. 
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! 

You can read and listen to that speech here. And you should.
But what you really need to do is to step back and remember that the next evening, after the march, standing briefly on the walkway outside his room at the Lorraine Motel, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death.
He had a dream.  He'd been to the mountaintop.  He would not turn back.
They killed him.
There's a moral somewhere in that.

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