Friday, April 04, 2008

Dr. King's America, 40 Years Later

Occasionally I go back and listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s recorded speeches. I have long loved the most famous “I have a dream” speech, but there are many more that bear witness to the voices of one of the 20th century’s great prophets.

One of my favorites is the acceptance speech he made upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. As he listed the reasons he accepted the award he made several bold statements about why non-violence was the path to justice and why he could continue to struggle for equality in an unjust world.

“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.”

He found in America something called hope. With all its problems, oppression, violence and injustice he still believed in the goodness of mankind and our ability to rise from the base instincts to find an enlightened path.

Today, on the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, it is fitting to look at our country and wonder how he would have reacted to where we are now. We still are fighting unjust wars. We still battle our own prejudices. We still watch great portions our own population dragged down by the chains of poverty. And yet we still have hope. Hope that has brought us beyond the brink of nuclear annihilation we faced during the cold war. Hope that sees a woman and a black man both running for the highest office in our land. Hope that lets us face the problems of racism, homophobia and still believe we can overcome. Hope that lets us face the millions of people without adequate health care and believe that we can remedy the problem. Hope that we can end an unjust war and bring home our soldiers who fought so valiantly.

It is that hope I still have. It is that hope I get from reading and listening to Dr. King’s speeches. It is that hope that I try to carry to others in my life and my work.

Heady stuff? Yes, but the things that are really worthwhile in life usually are.

1 comment:

Diane said...

I was only 7 when Dr. King was killed and being raised in the midwest, the farm kid of a father who openly hated blacks (he used the "N" word frequently) - I can't say that I remember anything about Dr King until I got out on my own and started studying him.
I was thinking today how things in this country might have been very different if he lived and John and Bobby Kennedy had survived.
Emily Dickinson once wrote - "Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words and never stops at all." I think Dr King was trying to offer this country hope - a new vision - a better way. I see Barack Obama offering hope to us now too - I hope he is given the opportunity to bring that hope and change to our country. We are long overdue for some relief from the horrors of the past 8 years.