MLK Sought to Address More than Racism
“I think I heard a shot / I think I heard a shot / I think I heard a shot . . .” (from Wake Up by Rage Against the Machine)
Had an assassin’s bullet not ended his life on April 4, 1968, one day after he preached his now-famous “Mountaintop” message in support of striking Memphis, Tenn., sanitation workers, and had he not met some other untimely end, the Baptist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have turned 90 years old on Tuesday.
We know King’s name and the highlights of his life because he was, in his own words, “catapulted” into the public eye in the 1950s. His enemies accused him of being a communist, an agitator, a race-baiter, and far worse, but today King is one of only two U.S. citizens to have a national holiday named after him. (See also Washington, George).
Thankfully, in that legislative-executive act by Congress and President Ronald Reagan in 1983, if not in other important areas of recent policy and practice, our country did the morally, spiritually and politically right thing. Perhaps best of all, by its very nature, King’s legacy calls attention to the stories of other heroes like Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, Fred Shuttlesworth and Myles Horton, even as it inspires present-day activists, such as John Lewis, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shane Claiborne, and many others.
Interestingly, like the biblical forefathers Abraham and Israel and Jesus’ apostles Peter and Paul, King, too, received a new name. His original birth certificate read “Michael King, Jr.,” after his father, the Rev. Michael King. But the senior King later changed his name and his son’s in honor of the German priest-reformer Martin Luther.
The junior King often expressed his vision of a world unchained from the bonds of racism, materialism and militarism by quoting the Hebrew prophets Amos, ”. . . Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream,” and Isaiah, “I have a dream that one day, ′ . . . the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together!’”
Fittingly, in his final public message, King named his dream: ”. . . the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee!”
Dare we add belatedly, the new Denver, the new Boulder, the new Broomfield?
Faith in the promise of remade American cities sustained King and the everyday, nonviolent heroes he helped lead as they suffered bombs, bullets, fire hoses, jail and all manner of indignities. They sat, rode, marched, sweat and bled to free oppressed black Americans and their white American oppressors, alike. Of course, the work continues. Many familiar fears and injustices remain to threaten and mock the dream, but still the dream lives on.
Long live the dream.
Marrton Dormish serves as minister of community service at The Refuge in Broomfield. Email him at email@example.com .