Happy MLK Day

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Around the United States today, many are celebrating the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There are service days, concerts, and news reports talking about the “legacy” of Dr. King. Except we only talk about part of the legacy.

In the generation since King’s assassination his message has been watered down, tamed… he’s been turned into the “safe civil rights hero.”  We remember that “he had a dream” – but few can recall the details of that dream beyond some vague image of racial harmony and kids walking hand in hand. While we praise and honor King today we need to remember that during his lifetime Martin Luther King Jr. was a divisive and controversial figure; divisive and controversial because he called for nothing less than a revolution; divisive and controversial because his message was radical and extreme…he spoke out against racism, materialism, and militarism… he embraced the tension and conflict necessary for real change…  

But, his own words say this far better than I can:


From a talk delivered at Riverside Church, New York City, April 4th, 1967 

          “We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.             

             “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. Wemust rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to aperson-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”  

From Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence 

          “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government “

          “These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”

          “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy… the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” …Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken — the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment”

          ” True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.”

From Letter from a Birmingham Jail

          ” Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

          “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”

King also said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So, today to honor MLK, let’s not be silent, let’s speak up for things that matter and let’s remember that doing so might be divisive and controversial. King’s message was radical. These times call for nothing less. In doing so we honor the real Martin Luther King

 “Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves in the long and bitter — but beautiful struggle for a new world” 


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