January 20, 2020, was the official recognition holiday of the life of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is intended to be a time of remembrance and celebration of a life courageously given to make a simple but monumentally profound dream into a reality.
However, MLK Day should not stop with a moment or two of reflection, though the reflection is appropriate. As noted in this journal previously, King was a childhood idol of mine, and I was crushed when he was assassinated in 1968, less than five years after he gave voice to his righteous dream in the nation’s capital.
Rev. King’s most famous speech is known as the “I have a dream” address on August 28, 1963, in front of 250,000 people in Washington D.C. at the official end of the “March on Washington.” His most famous quote is from that speech,
I have a dream that one day my four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character I have a dream today.
His dream was a powerful and iconic ideal set before a people who were languishing in the evil of racial oppression and sensed the winds of history were poised to sweep away the injustice of racism. A dream of such potency that it could not be ignored, especially when spoken with the force and elegance only Dr. King could invoke as the man God chose for that time.
Identifying the Dream of Liberty
There remains no better person to articulate and identify the noble dream of Dr. King than King himself. Here is a video capturing the entire address on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial to the quarter-million listeners in D.C. and the millions watching on television, who hung on every word.
If you have never heard this astonishing address in its entirety I would urge you to view and listen to it carefully. It has the additional grace that most great speeches throughout history in that King’s words are inspired but brief at just over 17 minutes in length.
In my time as a pastor, I preached over a thousand sermons both inside and outside of a church sanctuary. There were two comments I would invariably hear spoken to me after almost every one of those messages, and I wager that many of the readers could easily guess the content of those comments.
I would hear, sometimes from the same person, the words, “Good sermon,” and “You really stepped on my toes today.” Sometimes, in my efforts to be cordial, I would thank the person and I always tried to make sure I verbally gave all the glory to God, where it rightly belonged.
However, many times I would be dismayed by those comments and would often reply, “If I stepped on your toes I missed my target because I was aiming for your heart.” Dr. King presented a sermon before his audience that hot August day in 1963 and did what I often longed to do, hit the target at which God was aiming, the human heart.
The ideal, the dream set forth before the world by Dr. King carried the power of profundity with the force of the Divinity straight to the hearts of his listeners. Moreover, even today, over 46 years after the profession of his dream and through the filter of technology, the power of King’s dream can still grip our souls anew, if we will but listen anew.
As Dr. King set forth God’s message, he built an eloquent case for the righteousness of the dream that people would be regarded as equally human by each other just as they were so regarded by the LORD. Though he targeted the condition of America specifically, his speech was a worthy ideal for all the world to emulate.
Pursuing the Dream
It is one thing to identify and masterfully present an idealistic goal to any audience. It is another matter entirely to actively pursue that goal with sincerity and integrity.
The biggest reason Dr. King drew such crowds in 1963 was that he went far beyond just talking about it. He pursued it with deeds that risked his alienation and much worse from his opponents.
He had built support starting with his first noteworthy act of civil disobedience, the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955-56. He helped organize the boycott through his organization the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which virtually shut down the city busing industry there.
The boycott took place from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956, and is regarded as the first large-scale U.S. demonstration against segregation. Four days before the boycott began, Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested and fined for refusing to yield her bus seat to a white man. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ordered Montgomery to integrate its bus system, and one of the leaders of the boycott, a young pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged as a prominent leader of the American civil rights movement.
Dr. King suffered for his actions as did many of those who were his supporters. On one such occasion, he was arrested and thrown into a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama for organizing demonstrations against the racial injustice of that city in 1963.
Dr. King had read of a public statement “of concern and caution” about the demonstrations released by eight white religious leaders in the South shortly before his arrest and he wrote a lengthy response, Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The letter was a brilliant defense of non-violent action aimed at the religious leaders’ objections as well as educating all who read it about the specific goals and methods of their actions.
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no
gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.
Dr. King then continues to specifically list the problems and steps that had already been taken to address the racial injustice.
Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.
When negotiations with the city failed, King and his followers went to step three, the step he called “self-purification.” King described what that process entailed as a prerequisite to demonstrations.
We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” and “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?”
The careful preparations of both body and spirit were necessary for what those who followed Dr. King to fully participate in non-violent civil protest without reservation. As King realized, his was not the only movement against the oppression of blacks which garnered significant support.
Opposing and Reviving the Dream
Dr. King was virulently opposed by racists from groups like the KKK, and worse by black groups who advocated violence such as the original Black Panthers and the Black Muslims, aka the ‘Nation of Islam’ under Elijah Muhammed. Contrary to the urgings of King and others, black leaders on the other side demanded that civil rights be fought for “by any means necessary,” in the words of Malcolm X.
The great civil rights leader rightly feared the probable outcome of violent demonstrations against forced segregation and ‘Jim Crow’ laws that kept black people disadvantaged. Dr. King wrote that the groups advocating violence were,
…made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable devil. … There is a more excellent way, of love and nonviolent protest. I’m grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, I am convinced that by now many streets of the South would be flowing with floods of blood.
Today most of us rightly give respect to the accomplishments of Dr. King who gained more for the rights of black Americans than all the calls to “Black Power” and violence have ever done. Yet the minions of those who call for violence today, such as the group “Black Lives Matter,” and the so-called ‘woke’ groups of “Antifa” insist that non-violence is impotent in present-day America.
Tragically, both the violent means and the societal goal are directly in opposition to the principles embraced by Dr. King a half-century ago. In an excellent piece by Dr. Eric Wallace of the “Freedom’s Journal Institute,” he compares the stance of BLM versus that of Dr. King’s strident non-violence, specifically the dream of being judged not by color but character.
But with what measure are we to be judged today? How are the demands of today’s “Woke” culture or the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement representative of a people who continue to thrive in the face of injustice? Needless to say, neither of these movements proclaim a biblical foundation or Christian roots. In fact, one could argue that these contemporary movements demand the opposite of what Dr. King stood for and fought to accomplish. Many in these groups are quick to judge White people by the color of their skin while insisting they have “white privilege,” which automatically makes them guilty of racial injustice simply because they are White. This reasoning turns Dr. King’s words on their heads. Thinking that one is guilty simply because he or she is White or another is oppressed simply because he or she is not is the opposite of what King preached.
The lifelong quest of Dr. King for racial justice and equality through non-violence has been largely spurned by those who claim to speak on behalf of the black population in America today. It is past time for that righteous dream to be revived if we are going to continue moving toward a more just society instead of careening down a steep slope toward racial anarchy and destruction.
Fortunately, King’s dream is still alive and growing though it has taken President Trump’s administration to move it off of life support. Ironically, it is a person the Left constantly berates and accuses of being the biggest racist in world history who has brought more opportunity and prosperity to minorities than any administration in our history.
Those among the minority population, other than the mind-controlled minions of the MSM, have seen these results from the Trump administration and are leaving the Leftist Democratic [but I repeat myself] plantation in droves. The support for President Trump has risen to unprecedented levels among blacks in America as evidenced by a number of recent polls and is consistently above 30% today.
While 30% is far from a majority, consider that President Trump won in 2016 with just 8% of the black vote. As noted in a recent piece at Real Clear Politics,
Even 20 percent African-American support for Trump would all but dismantle Democratic Party presidential hopes for 2020.
This is truly good news for the promise of the profound dream of Dr. King. I hope and pray that the re-election of President Trump will take place and move America closer to the point of true racial justice and harmony.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24 [ESV]
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Featured and Top Image courtesy of Mike’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Mike Licht’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Public.Resource.Org’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
All other sources linked or cited in the text