Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Sad Anniversary

Martin Luther King's daughter to speak in Miami tonight

I've Been to the Mountaintop - the full text of the "I have a dream" Speech

38 years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. was cut down in the prime of his life, political career, and sacred mission. Much has been said about the man himself, and the movement ... political hay has been made of his alleged affairs and plagiarism, and political hay has also been made of his selfless devotion to the cause. In the 38 years since his death, he has become a true symbol of the civil rights movement, both of its success and failure in many ways.

But I'm not sure its meaningful to talk about MLK Jr's life. I'm not trying to defend plagiarism or cheating on a faithful wife, nor am I trying to glorify a selfless devotion to cause, but there are places where we can cut through all that, and see and hear Martin for who he truly was, for the contribution he made to the world.

Its not in the history books. Its not in the accounts of his life, the biographies or the fictions. Its not in the accounts of friends and colleagues. It is in Martin's words themselves that we see the true man. Somewhere on TV tonight, one of your local channels will rebroadcast his I Have a Dream speech ... I urge you to look for it and watch it. Find a copy on the web and listen to it. Or go to the link above to read the text. It doesn't matter HOW you listen to it again, but I urge you to listen, read, watch.

Other words he wrote or spoke would work as well ... in every example of a public speech or essay, Martin Luther King Jr gives us one of the finest examples of English oratory from the 20th century. His only competition, certainly among his contemporaries, are his other speeches ... in the class of oratory and command of English, Martin Luther King Jr was second and third only to himself.

In this, and many other speeches, he almost predicts his own death. In the final paragraph, he talks about not getting to see the promised land with us, and throughout his public life, he spoke very much as a man who knew he was walking into the path of a bullet, but a man who knew he could walk no other path. He wasn't a man who sought death, but he was a man who knew he was destined to die.

For me, the key to MLK Jr. isn't in his life, or even his religion really. Its all in his speeches. Here, and elsewhere, he leaves us with a vision of peace, of love, of what we all know is right. He says it so eloquently, with such quiet strength. He knew he would never get to the promised land on Earth ... he saw that very clearly. But his gift to the rest of us was that he knew we couldn't make it without his help, and he was willing to sacrifice himself to help our journey to that promised land. He never wanted to die ... he just knew that was what had to happen.


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