As we remember Dr. King this Monday, I wonder what he would think of us as a Nation, as we approach the 46th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis? He struggled against the real apartheid that existed in America, and labored to achieve equality of treatment for people of color. These conditions were obvious in the South, but existed with subtlety throughout the nation.
There are a few words from his speech, given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in 1963 that will be celebrated and remembered by all. We will all remember the phrase “I have a dream…” where he shares his vision for a South where intolerance and injustice are long forgotten memories, and where our nation will truly live up to its creed that “all men are created equal.”
But his 1963 speech was much deeper than just the inspiration from those words. As a minister he spoke to his audience, composed mostly of the blacks that had come to voice their dissent with the status quo, to fight for change and the rights of full citizenship. I would like to take other, lessor remembered, paragraphs from this speech and ask you to think about them for a brief time.
“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 self-hood 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.”
In these past 46 years the nation has continued to transform, sometimes for the better and other times not. The 1960’s were a decade of change and transformation with the rise of the civil rights movement to national prominence, and the beginnings of an anti-war movement that would ultimately lead to the messy end of US involvement in the Vietnam conflict. It was a time where my generation was coming of age, and the veterans of WWII were becoming the leaders of industry and the nation.
So here we are in 2014, as a new generation comes of age, and my generation is now being replaced as the leaders of industry and the nation. Have we, his audience on that hot August day, helped him achieve his dream or have we like our fathers continued on the path of a nation divided? It is easy to blame others; we do it all the time. That worthless so-and-so in Congress, those darn Democrats, that arrogant President, the pig-headed Republicans, illegal aliens, welfare, the 1%, etc., the list is endless. We have so many others we can blame we stop looking in the mirror at our choices and ourselves.
We are America, a nation of individuals each with his or her own mind. Society reflects who we are, and what we tolerate or do not tolerate. Some would have us believe the problems we see come from big business, big government, the media, the rich, the poor, the religious right, the liberal left, the uneducated, the over-educated, the elite, the masses, or some other outside influence. It seems to me, if we each have our own mind then it is up to us as individuals to decide the America we want. Do we continue to accept those who take polarizing positions to tear apart this nation or do we as individuals make a personal choice to stop the polarization? Do we continue to encourage violence or do we advocate for humanity? To we accuse those with whom we disagree to be racists or some other term, or do we consider their rights and opinions to be as important as our own? Finally, do we make a simple choice as Dr. King asked of his audience to help make America free or do we continue to blame others?