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The Influence of Dr. King

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When I was reminded of today’s anniversary of Dr. King’s death, I found this piece I wrote four years ago. This was published in the Lowell Sun, and also most likely appeared on All About Us: A Dracut Weblog.

“Today is January 11, 2002. It is the four-month anniversary of our nation’s nightmare. Or was that the day we woke up to what’s been going on
in our world? Before September 11, I would hear reports from other countries
of bombings, shootings and other acts of terror and misery. I would grimace,
shake my head, and move on. After the attacks, I felt so many things, most of them were miserable. Especially some degree of shame and guilt for not caring enough when this sort of thing had been already happening elsewhere. Now, I know that we as individual humans simply cannot champion every cause, nor fight every instance of injustice. And the attacks of 9-11 were quite unlike anything the world had witnessed in recent history.

But I can’t help but think what a shame it is that it took such an evil act to wake up a lot of us. And here we are, four months later. Today is January 11, 2002. A week or so shy of Martin Luther King’s birthday. I had been planning on using his “I Have a Dream” speech in my Sunday school class next week. I wanted to draw parallels between his speech and Isaiah 11: 6-9 – “…the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat…” This is also referred to as “Isaiah’s Dream”. It would not surprise me if Dr. King used Isaiah’s dream as inspiration for his own speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It is this speech that inspires me today. Here I find so much that applies to our current needs:

…It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment… 1963 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual… But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline… 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… This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring….

…And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up the day when we all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’

So, without the eloquence of Isaiah or Dr. King, my humble wish for us all is to remain strong as a country. Preach and practice tolerance. Do not let revenge and hate poison our lives. And above all, do not let complacency insulate us from our neighbor’s trials and worries. And keep dreaming for better things.”

A month or so after this was published in the paper, I received a note on Massachusetts government stationery from our State Senator, Susan Tucker (D). She said in part:

“During this period of national healing, it is important to remember that tolerance is a virtue we must all strive to practice in our daily lives.

In helping to refocus our society’s gaze upon the pursuit of this important ideal, you serve as a source of pride for your friends and family alike. I would like to join with them in keeping in mind this crucial component of what it means to be an American.”

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About MaryKay

  • Thanks Larry – yeah, it’s a great speech.

    As far as tolerance or acceptance goes, in your usage, it makes sense to use acceptance. But in some instances – I think tolerance is the best one could hope for.

  • I am totally in tune with this. I gave the I Have A Dream speech at a Toastmasters meeting one time. I was very moved by it.

    I just want to add one other comment. I would like to change the word tolerance to acceptance. I don’t think we should just tolerate people of other races but accept them. Someone said this to me one time and it really me made me think about this. Just a thought I had.