Fortunately, editorials in 2 major newspapers today can help with that.
In The Boston Globe we can read in King Memorial celebrates a leader, not just a symbol the following:
So let’s be clear: Without King, the black uprising would have been far more furious and more painful for African-Americans; even in the darkest days, he reminded his followers of their faith in God and in the American Dream. For white people, especially the timid moderates at whom the Letter from Birmingham Jail was aimed, a more violent uprising would only have deepened the racial wedge. It took King’s rational, but urgent, appeals to make enough whites understand what was at stake.
But there is more, both in this editorial, and in that of The New York Times.
The Times editorial is titled Dr. King’s Dreams – note the plural. The editorial portrays a more complete picture of King than many realize, reminding us that the famous speech given this day 48 years ago was at an event titled “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” Especially in a time where many are un- or underemployed, where those long unemployed are told not to bother applying for jobs at the same time as they have exceeded what benefits we offer those who have lost employment, it is perhaps important to remember how important King considered economic equity. That editorial notes of Dr. King
He moved to a Chicago slum, and in the tradition of Martin Luther, who nailed to a door the views that sparked the Protestant Reformation, he placed demands on the City Hall door: for unions to account for their hiring, for banks to adopt fair mortgage policies, for the city housing authority to increase the supply of low-cost housing, and for other powerful institutions to do their parts.
for other powerful institutions to do their parts – somehow I cannot imagine Dr. King being silent when rich try to argue they should be taxed even less than they are today while some of their “champions” argue that the poor and middle class are undertaxed. Somehow I cannot imagine Dr. King being silent when corporations make obscene profits but want to cut the wages and benefits of their workers. Somehow I cannot imagine Dr. King being silent when some what to cripple and undercut the public schools that were often the only avenue for advancement of the poor. Somehow I cannot imagine Dr. King being silent when there are voices that argue the poor have only themselves to blame. Somehow I cannot imagine Dr. King being silent when unions are again under attack – remember, when he was assassinated he was in Memphis on behalf of striking sanitation workers.
The Times reminds us that King’s efforts in Chicago met with strong opposition. It closes with these words, which demonstrate that Dr. King would not remain silent:
In a sermon on Christmas Eve in 1967, Dr. King described himself as a victim of “blasted hopes.” He declared, “I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda.” The abiding chasm between America’s haves and have-nots reminds us that Dr. King was a true prophet, and of our responsibility to fight for justice in all its forms.
our reponsibility to fight for justice in all its forms – including economic justice.
The Globe editorial also closes with an understanding of King’s broad vision:
. He, of all people, believed this country would eventually embrace its true destiny, that equality would one day be the American creed. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King declared in the Letter from Birmingham Jail. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The opening of the King Memorial is an act of justice that reflects its glory on Americans everywhere.
But we do not need the words of others to understand this. King spoke powerfully, as he did 48 years ago today. Allow me to offer 2 paragraphs from earlier in his speech than the words most often quoted:
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
the riches of freedom and the security of justice – but absent economic security is one truly free, does one truly have access to justice?
the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children – that includes the older Americans who have had their jobs downsized or exported, and in the process their dreams have been downsized and their lives diminished.
we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt – when deficits are more important than persons, our bank of justice would be bankrupt. Except the American people understand this, even if too many in politics and the media do not. If I may, might I take Biblical language and change it in a way one might have heard from Dr. King: What profiteth a nation if it balances its budget but loses its people? Where then would be the soul of the nation?
Dr. King spoke for more than racial justice, although true justice cannot be compartmentalized, and we still have work to do on racial justice.
Perhaps we would do well to remember the words King spoke 1 year to the day before his assassination, at Riverside Church in NYC, a speech titled “A Time For Breaking Silence.” Allow me to offer only two selections from this powerful speech. First these words:
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be — are — are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
THe words King offered about Vietnam can in many ways be applied in our own day. We have seen destruction of civil liberties in the so-called Great War on Terror. We see continued erosion of the principles of the nation in our continued conflicts overseas, not merely the two named conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in ongoing operations by the Special Operations Command in dozens upon dozens of nations. Besides the moral wrongness of many of these, there are also the costs to the nation – in broken bodies and shattered dreams of our men and women in uniform, and in the incredible costs to the nation economically, including the ballooning deficits about which some express so much concern, except that they – who often profit from these conflicts – do not want to be taxed to pay for them.
And then there are these words:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. 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.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
What King says about the injustice we impose upon other nations could as easily be applied nowadays to the injustice we are imposing upon our own people.
Dr. King would not remain silent. He was not silent during his life. He would not be silent were he still with us.
Dr. King was a leader. He was, in his own words, a drum major for justice.
A leader needs followers. That is our responsibility.
Dr. King has shown us the way.
He spoke out.
He placed his life on the line.
If we are going to honor him with a national memorial – which is more than just – should we not also honor him by following his example?
I cannot imagine Dr. King being silent in the face of the injustices that not only exist, but which are expanding, within our nation and our society.
If he would not remain silent, neither should we.
Should not we honor him by following his example, in our words and deeds?
One last selection of his words, words quoted by President Obama – the fierce urgency of now
Let us not forget.