The ideals and philosophy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. are as relevant today as when he fought inequality and injustice in the 1950s and 1960s. Arguably, his most publicized speech at the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 1963, elevated the phrase, “I have a dream…” to a status rarely equaled in oratorical history. Revisiting those days of divisive politics and turmoil, is sadly reminiscent of today’s controversial climate – figuratively and literally.
Although the “I have a Dream” speech among others spoke of the horrors of rampant individualism that accompanies bigotry, he concluded with remarks that gave hope and support for all of us. Suffering through battles of hate and indifference, Dr. King not only realistically appraised the situation, but spurred others to act in a manner that exemplified the ideals of a just and benevolent society. Throughout his life, King knew that this “dream” was unfulfilled and an ideal far from reality, rather a goal to give hope for a pluralistic community of people. Another excerpt from his speeches is a succinct expression of his basic message: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
Even in our relatively calm, multicultural communities of the greater southeast bay area, incidents of hatred and violence continue to stain the fabric of our society. Although it may be an isolated instance or persistent undertone that only breaks the surface on rare occasions, these are the fractures that Dr. King warned about saying, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” He noted that those who endeavor to isolate and divide, ignore the basic tenet that “We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.”
For those seeking a rational approach to solving our civic discord, King adopts a philosophy that integrates scientific thought and faith. They are not irreconcilable and, as a man of faith, he is able to use both to fight against irrational behavior. He understands that “Every man lives in two realms: the internal and external” that leads to “…an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions” but advises, “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.” King conveys an unshakable belief in the ultimate triumph of nonviolence; and a conviction that when good faces evil, respect and fortitude for the rights of all is the basis for justice, peace and brotherhood.
Exhorting society to action, King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” His remarks at the Lincoln Memorial were a presage of the trials and tribulations to come but also a map toward the goal of peace. He admonishes those who favor violence that, although a short-term solution, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
It is my hope that we can learn to adhere more closely to the beliefs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and use the wisdom of his thoughts and actions to guide our personal and civic life to provide a lawful, just and peaceful society for ourselves and future generations.
Although, as King said in his historic speech at the Lincoln Memorial that freedom for all Americans is far from a reality, he refuses to believe that “the bank of justice is bankrupt.” Instead, in a crescendo of confidence in the future, even with the premonition of his untimely demise, he exhorts the crowd with his “dream.”
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. 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: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream today!