Today, the special day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, we will probably hear the famous soundbyte, “I have a dream.” That speech was certainly a wonderful inspiration to those who struggle in the on-going quest for human and civil rights. Unfortunately, this beautiful phrase has been used to sanitize the image of the great civil rights leader. King had more than a dream. There was much more to his vision than we’re presented in the sanitized, revisionist version of him.
A person does not become a social icon nor somebody to salute by living a vanilla flavored, teddy bear, cuddly life. That person must live a life that is spiced with hard work, extreme risk-taking, and personal endangerment. That person forges on, despite official condemnation by the mainstream. A person of this magnitude goes beyond being a social critic to being an active ingredient in applying his or her values. That kind of person does not set a goal of having a holiday proclaimed in his honor.
I hope that Martin Luther King, Junior Day was founded on more than his assassination. Certainly, King’s ultimate sacrifice must be historically recognized for the huge loss that it is. However, an assassination is a negative event. Just as Abraham Lincoln is known for more than his death, Dr. King should be known and celebrated for his life and vision.
It must be remembered that Dr. King was first and foremost, the Reverend King. He was deeply religious in as true of a sense that a Christian can become. He wasn’t content to only give a Sunday sermon and quote from scripture. His vision and message grew to include all people and the thorniest issues of our times. He understood that the terrible problems of racial discrimination and prejudice are symptoms of deeper human difficulties. Dr. King certainly did not restrict his work to Sunday school lessons and politically safe areas.
King scared the bejesus out of people in power. Just a little bit of historical research reveals to us that FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover believed that King was a subversive element. Hoover set upon King with anti-Communistic zeal. As King applied his speeches and actions to many more issues across racial lines, people in power became more worried. Certainly, Reverend King was not a Communist nor strictly a politician. He was too much of a Christian for such a thing. His integrity unsettled some people so much, that many of his early allies abandoned his cause.
On the other hand, King began to inspire activists and activist wannabes who worked to alleviate poverty in the nation. King was fuel to the anti-war movement’s drive to get America out of Vietnam. He frightened entrenched mainstreamers by advocating complete civil rights for all marginalized people, not only African Americans. King profoundly and forcefully spoke out against every form of injustice, prejudice, and oppression because he saw all human repression as a symptom of indifference and hatred.
We have forgotten that Dr. King was driven by three motivators. 1. Civil enfranchisment of African Americans and other minorities. 2. Economic equality as set forth in his “Poor People’s Campaign. 3. Anti-militarism, which he frequently advocated in his opposition to the Vietnam War. Any one of these issues was often countered by his critics and adversaries. The status quo was his nemesis. Attacks came from the military-industrial complex, federal and state governments, mainstream religionists, and the media.
King was perceptive enough to understand that poverty, inequality, and imperialism were “each other’s keepers”. He saw that the Vietnam War drained the money, man-power, and will that could be otherwise put to good use to improve living standards, economic conditions, and cultural rights. He further understood the concept of solidarity. All oppressed groups must be included and none ignored in order to insure that all humans are treated equally, with dignity.
Dr. King was a Christian idealist, not a fundamentalist. This meant that he reached across our artificial religious and political boundaries. This enabled him to ignite the activist energies in many people in other movements, ideologies, and nations. In so doing, Dr. King transcended his religion and became a universal voice and agent for justice and liberty.
His name lives in the company of those like Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thankfully, Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior was not a stick in the mud. He worked to stir up the waters in his efforts to cleanse America of its indifference.
The Blue Jay of Happiness has this King quote to ponder, today: “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external violence, but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”