As I write these words I am thinking of one of our greatest citizens whose birthday we recently celebrated.
He was a most courageous black man.
He was an educated man, holding a PhD from Boston University.
He was married to Coretta and they had three children.
His father was pastor of a church in Atlanta, Georgia.
He was a nonviolent man, a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. Though some of his followers urged the use of violence, he condemned it, and was largely successful in keeping his cause nonviolent — a cause that ultimately ended official segregation by Congress passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
He was also very much opposed to the Vietnam War.
He lived every day with danger. At the height of his career, he received hundreds of letters every day denouncing him. Many of them were physically threatening. His home was bombed in January 1956. Though he was thrown into jail 12 times in his lifetime, he never physically resisted and never became bitter.
He was a brilliant writer. His “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is a classic and ranks right up there with the letters of St. Paul found in the New Testament of the Bible. In his letter, he chides his white friends who are urging him to go slow and are not willing to publicly demonstrate their support of the civil rights cause.
He was an eloquent speaker. His “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered in Washington, DC in 1963 to one of the largest crowds ever assembled in the Nation’s Capital.
He was a man of faith and was an ordained Baptist minister, serving as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.
His principal organization, which he chaired, was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It included many blacks who later became very prominent in the political life of our country, such as Andrew Young who became Mayor of Atlanta. Others were elected to various legislative bodies.
He was a martyr, gunned down in Memphis at the height of his career on April 4, 1968 at age 39 by James Earl Ray.
He is, without a doubt, the greatest prophet of the 20th century and one of the great men of all times. As long as humans are alive the tablets of history will bear his name. As long as memory exists he will be remembered. As long as love, goodness and justice are revered he will be revered. The awards bestowed upon him include:
Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” Award — 1963
Nobel Peace Prize — 1964
Presidential Medal of Freedom — 1977
Congressional Gold Medal — 2004
His name is Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrated on Jan. 15.
As a young man I was profoundly affected by Dr. King, as were so many of my generation. So were people all over America and, indeed, the world.
Dr. King will probably be best remembered by his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC. In that speech he laid out his dream for America where, regardless of race or color, we all learn to live together, go to school together, go to church together, work together and find a common bond of love and friendship.
Here are the last words of his famous Washington speech summarizing what it will be like when his dreams are fulfilled. I quote:
“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’” If America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire, from the mighty mountains of New York and the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado and the curvaceous slopes of California.
But also let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia and Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside let freedom ring.
When we allow freedom to ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, We are free at last.”