Of all of the immortal figures in United States’ history, nobody is more deserving of their own holiday than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His dream of a world where all men, women, and children are treated as equals seems as far away in some respects as they did in the 1960’s when he gave that poignant speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. It was a speech that not only solidified King as a visionary and a leader of the people; it also marked him as an enemy to many. To this day we don’t know for sure whether James Earl Ray killed him in an alone act or not. What we do know is that King was an enemy of the status quo of the shifting times of the 60’s and is just as dangerous in present time as he was during his mortal lifetime.
Annually we celebrate King with a three-day weekend. We throw barbeques, sleep in, day drink with our neighbors, and we don’t give King hardly a second thought. Aside from government workers and bankers, most people don’t even get this day off of work. A majority of people don’t even know what he said in his dream speech past “I have a dream” (His full speech is transcribed at the end of this article). Many folks bastardize his speech for a cheap laugh on television shows, YouTube videos, etc. while diluting his message and his original intent.
We live in a world that King wouldn’t recognize today. His non-violent leadership would be scoffed at by today’s standards and frustrations. King, much like Gandhi, understood that non-violent protest was something that the powers didn’t know how to handle. They can’t do anything about you. When the powers in charge have you violent, they know how to distinguish your message. That has been proven time and time again, especially during the last twelve years of racial struggles.
With today’s technology and social media, it has become easier than ever to destroy a person. Pitch forks and torches have been traded in for the virtual lynch mob. They don’t even have to kill your mortal body; they just have to slay you in a public forum before you even get started. People can create falsities about your character and write clickbait titles on their articles and let the quickly frenzied and foreboding masses do the rest of the work for them.
A great example of this, you need look no further than the great titans of the NFL industry and then President, Donald J. Trump on August 26, 2016. If you remember, Colin Kaepernick, QB for the San Francisco 49ers simply kneeled during the National Anthem to bring awareness to police brutality against the black community. He simply took a knee. This was a peaceful protest that came with backlash from the POTUS and eventually led to Kaepernick leaving the NFL in 2017.
A simple peaceful protest that should have been welcomed by the masses considering the reason was for the police to do their jobs correctly without excessive violence towards another race turned into a social media feeding frenzy against Kaepernick and the NFL. Trump literally called for owners to fire players that wouldn’t stand during the anthem. Extreme nationalism is an issue unto itself. Kaepernick’s right to peacefully protest on such a national scale is exactly what our brave men and women fought to protect. Several veterans supported his decision, but that is a conversation for another time.
In 2020 my girl (Rachel) and I took our kids to see the grave of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a pilgrimage into the heart of Atlanta, GA that we felt was important to see. We were able to show them the humble beginnings of King and the house he was born in. The children were able to see his beautiful tomb where he and his wife lay on an island in the middle of a gorgeous fountain. We were able to stand on at the doorstep of the Ebenezer Baptist Church where King worked. The children got to see the Civil Rights Walk of Fame where they got to size up their own feet with legends like Rosa Parks, Sidney Poitier, and even Sammy Davis Jr (he had surprisingly small feet).
The kids asked many questions as we walked through the different places. It was great to see their minds actually at work. Though they may not fully understand the gravity of the experience now, they will remember it and hopefully take their children as well and continue that empathetic learning experience.
There was a moment when all of us, even the two teenagers shut their mouths. We were standing at the fountains and over the speakers into the courtyard you could hear King’s voice speaking with the passion of forty-five men. It was his dream speech. The kids hung on every ardent word.
It was a truly beautiful moment that Rachel and I will cherish our whole lives.
As I eluded in the title, King has died twice now. This wasn’t just some sensationalized title to grab views. This was a true claim. A call to action if you will. There are some ways that the civil rights movement has made huge strides for the future. There are some ways that progress has slapped the face of the movement. Black History Month for one is celebrated in February. Not only is it the shortest month of the year, but why wouldn’t we celebrate black history during the same month as King?
Better question, why wouldn’t we just teach black history period?!? It has to be reduced to a short month?
Mob actions during protest are just another way that King’s memory is not honored. I understand the idea of frustration, but I will state it one more time. Violence is where the opposition wants you. Nonviolence paired with education is not as easy to stop. With nonviolence, you can infiltrate the system and work from within making true change within the world we live in.
There will always be racists, racism, elitists, and class warfare amongst the so-called leaders of our society. These things don’t always have to trickle down to the masses. Remember, those “leaders” are the true minorities.
MLK “I Have a Dream”
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 100 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 languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve 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. And so we’ve 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 his 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. 1963 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.
And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And 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 down 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 new meaning: My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And 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, and when we allow 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.