This Thursday at noon, we will focus on Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Urban Engagement Book Club in Dallas (sponsored by CitySquare – Click here for the details).
But, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America.
Here ‘s the short version of his career:
December 1, 1955 – He led the meeting that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested for staying seated on a city bus
April 16, 1963 – From jail, he wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail
August 28, 1963 – He delivered his I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
April 4, 1968 – He was killed in Memphis, Tennessee
Here’s an interesting note; if you watch his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” the night before his death, he spoke at the Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) in Memphis, to people in support of sanitation workers. And, just three days earlier, March 31, 1968, he spoke to a distinguished crowd at the glorious National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
That captures the contrast of his life.
And… here’s the thing to remember. When he began his career, a black person had to sit at the back of the bus – that was the law of the city. At the end of his life/career, there were no more such laws of segregation, and the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) had been passed. Give Dr. King plenty of the credit.
He never called for revolution. In that last speech, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, he stated his request simply, powerfully:
All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.”
Here’s the full paragraph with that quote:
Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
So, on Martin Luther King day, let’s remember this simple truth: he argued that basic rights for all people, including black people, were indeed basic human rights; basic American rights.
Are we close to “being true to what we say on paper?” Not close enough…