Thoughts on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Holiday 2017
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” —“I Have a Dream Speech," Dr. Martin Luther King (1963)
Today we celebrate the life of America’s greatest civil right’s leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King lived at a time when “separate, but equal” (which in reality was unequal) was accepted by many Americans. Racial discrimination was legal in many settings. Through the efforts of Dr. King and many others, legal discrimination on the basis of race is now illegal in America. Progress has been made allowing greater opportunities and freedom for people of color.
While progress has been made, much work still needs to be done. Human nature leads many people to subtly favor people with whom they share commonalities including race, religion, education, and other kinds of human characteristics and associations. This means that many people of color lack vibrant social connections with people in the majority. The lack of social interactions contributes greatly to diminished opportunity and diminished prosperity. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King stated, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” Sadly, this remains true for too many people of color.
What can, and must be done? We must marshal resources and use our ingenuity and creativity to ensure that all of our neighborhoods are safe from criminal violence. We must create excellent educational and training opportunities for all of our children. We must create a financial and regulatory environment in which small businesses can truly thrive.
Dr. King was a Christian minister, which means that he viewed life through Christian eyes. This can be seen in the nature of his writings and the style of his speeches. Dr. King would likely have believed that the key to racial harmony is through Christian love. Christian love is not referring to emotional love, but rather to doing the right thing. Remember the teachings of the second great Christian commandment, which is to “treat your neighbor as yourself.” Christian love means that if you are doing wrong against someone because of prejudice or racism, you make yourself do what is right, even if it goes against your feelings. Irrespective of whether or not a person is religious, doing what is right for another person, even if we do not “feel” like doing what is right, is necessary if we are to create a society of opportunity and justice for all people.
Dr. King ended his “I Have a Dream” speech with the following powerful words: “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it 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 men and White men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, we are free at last!” Dr. King’s words remind us that true freedom, which includes the freedoms of action, and association, and likes, and dislikes, and the ability to live as we wish to live, can only occur when we accept that there is but one race, the human race; and All are equal in the eyes of God, and equal in the eyes of man.
Let it be so.