SAN JOSE, January 19, 2015 – This Monday is the day that was set aside by President Ronald Reagan to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Of course, the celebrations or events around the country to pay recognition to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day may not be as dramatic as those in 2013 when the birthday honoring the icon of the Civil Rights Movement and the inauguration of the nation’s first black president occurred on the same day.
That significance was not lost on the Obama inauguration team. Although scaled down quite a bit from the 2009 inaugural ceremonies, the events were substantial and designed to maximize the significance of the two events and Obama’s team masterfully choreographed the events.
A main point of that year’s celebration seemed to be to make the most of a linkage between Obama and the civil rights era. The connection appeared to be mutually beneficial to Obama and to the memory of Rev. King.
Apparently it represented an opportunity too good for Obama’s team to pass up and reflected the sentiment of many around President Obama, and perhaps Mr. Obama himself, that he could ultimately have his legacy forever merged with Martin Luther King, Jr. Reflecting this in 2011, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author, political analyst, and at the time, a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network, wrote an article entitled: “President Obama Still Can Seize King’s Racial Dream High Ground.”
Indeed, many Americans looking primarily across the surface of reality could be proud that finally the first black president was elected in 2008. There is even a perception or sentiment among many people that Barack Obama’s presidency is the fulfillment of Dr. King’s “Dream” that he shared with hundreds of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington, D.C. in 1963. Hutchinson stated in his article that
“The 1963 March on Washington that brought King world-wide attention and stamped him as a transformative leader for the ages brought thousands of persons together across gender, class and color lines in a vocal protest against intolerance and violence. This was the hope and promise of Obama’s election. It showed that millions of whites could strap racial blinders around their eyes and punch the ticket for an African-American for the world’s most powerful political post. King would undoubtedly have glowed with approval at that.”
While there is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have glowed with approval at the sight of a black man becoming president, the jury is still out on Obama’s presidency as a fulfillment of the civil rights movement.
The comparisons between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barak Obama may not entirely ring true. Even if only the speech at the Lincoln Memorial is used as a measuring stick, Obama’s presidency has distorted and trivialized what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. represented. Unfortunately, King is not around to ask what he meant specifically when he said
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with… With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
The key component to this speech is the American dream of living in freedom. For too long it had been denied black Americans as they suffered in slavery. Then, after slavery was abolished in the United States through the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, there remained the residue from hatred and resentment in the Southern governmental establishments allowing for the restriction and outright prevention of citizens freedoms and civil liberties. This became the reason for the rise of the civil rights movement.
Certainly, one of the primary points that Martin Luther King, Jr. made in his time was that freedom was a dream for all people: not just for white people but for all people. By the same token, he understood that he spoke to all people, not just black people. Many white Americans mistakenly believe that King was speaking only to the black people, but King himself said he was speaking to all people. He kept that in mind and in his heart as he spoke out. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” he explained
Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus sayeth the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my… home town.
What has been lost about Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that he was more than just a leader of a secular movement for black American’s civil rights. Dr. King was genuinely a man of God and it was his relationship with God that gave him such strength and courage to transform from the humble preacher to the modern-day prophet and the social activist many remember him to be. Sadly, it is easy in this swift-paced, perpetually “plugged in” society to simply skim the surface of what Martin Luther King, Jr. was about and quickly rush on.
Yet, in the midst of the American society today, it is important to take more than a brief moment to reflect on what drove him to stand up and speak out in a Deep South culturally and politically dominated by a white power structure.
Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for freedom, not from the slavery of the Deep South that had been abolished by the blood of white men fighting for the rights of the black population; but he was fighting against white power structure that had legalized discrimination and prejudice and racism. The source of that was the residue remaining from the white power structure that had ruled a part of the United States of America since the founding, and had maintained rule over the South for 160 years prior to that. He fought against the residue of a tyrannical structure of government that had existed in North America since before the United States of America had been born.
The attitude of aristocratic, power hungry politicians of the South who had inherited their attitudes of racial prejudice from their slave-owning fathers, was not limited to racism. It was a system of thought and an attitude of superiority that King fought against as much as the laws of the old southern aristocracy. He fought against the inability to speak up or speak out, he fought for the freedom to voice one’s concerns in a South that had been under the mental dominion of the dominant political party since the days of Andrew Jackson. In essence, he fought for freedom as he claimed himself.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was aware of the depth and strength of what he was up against, but he did stand up and he did speak out – at the risk of his life. One must wonder where his courage and strength of conviction came from. It originated in the roots of his faith. Indeed, he was a social activist, but also a serious believer in non-violent civil disobedience as Mohandas Gandhi had practiced. However, at his core, he was a humble preacher, dedicated to the teachings of Jesus, and a Christian minister who believed in the dynamism of love to transform the human heart. He believed in the power of love.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once in a sermon entitled “Loving your enemies,” he asserted that “Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of our Christ, is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s quest for peace and security.” His comprehension of racism defined it as a disease of the heart. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to fight racism through love since it was a disease of the heart. It was not cholesterol that was causing the blockage of the flow of love – it was bigotry, prejudice, and hatred against human beings that was the source of this disease. Such sentiments are basically divisive; they do not heal wounds, and they often have no intention of doing so.
The message and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly shows him to be more than just a leader of a secular movement for black American’s civil rights. Dr. King was genuinely a man of God and it was his relationship with God that gave him such strength and courage to transform from the humble preacher to the modern-day prophet. Only one who comes with such content of character, and not simply the same skin color, can begin to claim some link to the legacy of this man of God.