Why do we honor Dr. Martin Luther King? What did he stand for?

Martin Luther King: If ever there was a man with a vision Dr. King fit the bill. There are few people walking the earth who are not familiar with his “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King had a premonition of his own death and drafted this speech as a sort of pre-eulogy that he delivered himself. It is surely one of the most moving and memorable speeches of all time. It rings down the valleys and off the mountain tops with Dr. King’s vision of a world that he dreams could be. It is a eulogy of possibilities and hope rather than of defeat and death.

Dr. King was vilified in his own life time not just by many whites but also by many blacks. The more militant of the Civil Rights groups including SNCC, some in CORE and also the Black Panthers saw MLK as too passive, forgiving and willing to turn the other cheek. Many in the Black Muslims saw Dr. King as simply a “pawn” of the white man. The Black Muslims wanted nothing to do with compromise or civil rights at all. Dr. King had enemies and critics on all sides. Some say he knew that he did not have long to live and that he would die in a matter of weeks.

Put yourself in Dr. King’s shoes for a few minutes if you really want to understand and appreciate his life. Even today, some states have tried to deny him this day of commemoration. In his time he was loved and hated, praised and despised, honored and spit on, applauded and stoned. Think for a second what it would be like to live in a fishbowl beset on all sides by those who condemn you and those who want more of your time. Think about trying to maintain your vision of non-violence when all around you is hate and loathing. Think about trying to preach conciliation and tolerance when both whites and blacks are killing each other because of the color of their skin. Think of being the minority that gets the worse of the deal every time because your people lack the power and political machinery to orchestrate the best deals.

It would have been very easy for Dr. King to take a short term view of life, but he did not. Dr. King saw the future of America dependent on how it settled this big question: “Were whites and blacks going to be equal or not.” Dr. King knew that the greatness of America turned on this question. Was freedom, equal rights, democracy and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just for whites or could blacks be included in this vision as well? Dr. King was positive that he and others could forge a reality out of the American dream that would also merge with his dream for African Americans. Dr. King and millions of other African Americans and whites have worked to help move us towards this dream. Dr. King provided a dream that will live on forever.

As you go about today, think for a few seconds about why we honor Dr. King. Without a vision, people will perish. Dr. King may have saved millions of lives by providing all of us with a vision that inspires and motivates us to create a more just and humane society. A dream to help create a nation where someday racism and race prejudice will no longer exist. It is a dream we have not reached, but it is a dream that it is still worth working for. Ask yourself today, what are you doing to help dispel racism and prejudice? Am you part of the solution or are you part of the problem? Do you hate other races or do you work to bring all people together? Today is a day to celebrate the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King and we all best honor his life and vision by doing our own small part to end racism and race hatred.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bgalbreath
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 17:18:33

    I remember the night we heard about his assassination. I was living in a dormitory at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, then as now one of the most liberal places in the U.S. But I heard the news from a white student who ran down the hall shouting (exultantly, it sounded) “They shot Martin Luther Coon!”

    It takes all kinds, I guess. What strikes me almost 35 years later is how little progress we have yet made toward what I see as King's vision of a country and a world where people are not judged because of the color of their skin. Even the Supreme Court, in upholding racial preferences in higher education admissions, ruled that, while someday we could have a policy that truly ignored skin color, the time was not yet. I am not sure whether we are making slow progress or are slipping backward. On the plus side, I see much more acceptance of people living where they want and marrying who they want. But on the negative side I see more people identifying themselves by their sub-group rather than as Americans, more attempts to secure racial turf in majority-minority gerrymandered districts, more (to me) misguided attempts to get reparations, more racially based grievances. It shocks me that a major civil rights group can, in this day and age, call itself “La Raza”. My hope is that someday we will finally get beyond the shackles of the past.



  2. John Persico
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 18:39:18

    Agreed Bruce, I sometimes wonder if we are making progress. I would like to think the good outweighs the bad and there is certainly evidence of both. I am optimistic that we are going forward though not at the rate I suspect either of us would like.



  3. Anonymous
    Sep 01, 2014 @ 22:43:11

    shut up



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