*Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was delivering the keynote address at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963.
At her behest Dr. King reportedly abandoned his notes and with as much fervor as his small frame could muster, he improvised “I still have a dream today…” – a message that began months earlier during the march on Detroit.
He said, “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.” Dr. King took America to church!
The words of Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, infused hope and inspiration to the mixed masses in a most profound way. Now over 50 years later the profundity of that speech remains a brilliant evergreen benchmark as we look around and still see the “flames of withering injustice,” “the manacles of segregation,” “and the chains of discrimination” even today.
Unfortunately, since 1963 the milestones of the road to equality – from the passing of the Civil Rights Act, to the election of a Black (or African/American if you prefer) president – have done little to bridge the racial divide. Sure we can point to some gains in the Black culture like in sports, entertainment, politics, etc., but when it comes right down to it, it’s still “us” and “them,” not “we the people.”
Dr. King also said, “…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 quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
What a difference it would make if we could funnel and re-direct all the negative energy demonstrated by some on Capitol Hill and use it for a higher purpose. Many of our so-called leaders spin the rhetoric for democracy, but their objective is far from it. One of the definitions of democracy is, “The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.” It’s been said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
There is so much pride in old ways of thinking; so much arrogance, hatred and prejudice prevalent still today. There is even unprecedented blatant disrespect for the highest office in the land – the presidency – just because of skin color! If the disenchantment looms there, what does that say for the rank and file? How can some people be so blinded by prejudice while claiming to have so much love for God, the Creator of all? Do they think God only sees things the way they do?
To Black America Dr. King said, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plain of dignity and discipline.” The Staple Singers once recorded a song called “Respect Yourself” that said “If you disrespect everybody that you run into, how in the world do you think anybody’s gonna respect you?” Those are powerful messages for us all.
As a reminder, although Dr. King is remembered as the champion of the civil rights movement, he was first and foremost a minister of the gospel as evidenced in his 1963 speech. The movement was rooted in the gospel of truth, righteousness, and dignity; and there is no dignity in the behavior of some who for their own agendas, wish to jump on board the civil rights bandwagon. That bandwagon has an owner’s manual called the Bible. Dr. King appealed to the spirit of God in mankind. I urge those who have read his speech to read it again, and those who have not to do so for the first time. Dr. King’s legacy is like the “hope of a tree” as mentioned in the Book of Job chapter 14 [KJV]. There it says, “If it [the tree] be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.”
As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, let us pause and remember what Dr. King lived and died for. Maybe we could even download a copy of the speech so that we can tell others about the dream as Mahalia Jackson urged Dr. King to do on that historical August day.