My name is Martin Luther King Jr. While to some it may seem unnecessary to introduce myself, history has been so obscured, ignored, and re-invented that it is impossible to take for granted that people know the truth. I come today not to tell you of myself or the works of myself or those who came before or after me. There is enough documentation to thoroughly delineate that reality. Let me seize this moment to address your present and future.
My purpose for writing to you is much greater than personal prerogative. Let me begin by suggesting that you revisit the entire concept of a national holiday in my honor. In truth, it is nothing that I would have asked for or expected, given the way America treated me during my lifetime. And Biblically it is written that we should be no respecter of man. Those who seek their reward among mortals will find it there. Eternal life and the hand of God is my reward… not your platitudes.
Don’t get me wrong. I am humbled and appreciative of those who worked so hard to assure that this nation had some significant and ongoing reminder of the work done by freedom fighters… ordinary men and women who strove to achieve extraordinary ideals for the sake of man and to the glory of God.
It is healthy that children and scholars reflect on their commitment, principle and sacrifice. So to that end, the King Holiday has a useful purpose. And yes, the Bible does say give honor to whom honor is due.
But there is a greater motivation to my suggestion that you reconsider the holiday tribute. It is predicated in the contrast of symbolism and substance. My appeal is rooted in the moral and practical question of what this nation does, or refuses to do, in the 364 days between each King Holiday.
Where is the evidence of support for the ideals of myself and so many who share my beliefs in the potential of America? We languish as a nation in the same social apathy that has impaired our humanity for more than 400 years.
America will never realize full possibilities if it remains a nation of hypocrites. A far greater tribute to me than a holiday would be refusal to perpetuate the marginalization and victimization of the most vulnerable in our society.
How can we profess love for democracy when so many are willing to accept laws that suppress voting rights in the face of so many who died during our struggle? How can we accept diametrically opposed concepts of equality for women while relegating that majority to second-class citizenship in the workplace, and to denying them their rights to decisions about their own bodies?
There is a problem in a nation where the wealthiest enjoy seeing their coffers increase by vulgar proportions in a pandemic that has not only devastated human life but exacerbated impoverished conditions, jeopardizing livelihood and access to basic every day needs like food and shelter.
There is a problem in a nation that claims to love young people but refuses to facilitate their growth and development, particularly for those who happen to be Black or brown, by creating a system that perpetuates miseducation and purposeful neglect while shamelessly channeling them through the path of a prison pipeline.
There is a problem in a nation where the government consistently ignores the will of the people when it comes to gun violence and creates more access to weapons even as the record gruesome body count of men, women and children spirals.
The carnage is not limited to drug infested environments.
It is tragically pervasive in our schools, on college campuses, in the church, mosque or synagogues, in shopping centers, in restaurants, among workers in factories, and offices, at entertainment or recreational events, in the privacy of homes and neighborhoods, and virtually everywhere law-abiding and peaceful people gather.
That is why it is the height of irony to offer speeches and resolutions and forums and sermons on the justice, and the quality of which I spoke during my years and feel compelled to examine an education system striving to teach less about matters that pertain to race, out of the fear it might send precious white children on a guilt trip.
The truth is, it would much more likely bruise the fragile egos of their parents and grandparents and make them feel uncomfortable as history reminds them of the pervasive inequities of the past, as well as the systemic racism deep in the fiber of the nation today.
In one of my last speeches, I made it clear that I would study war no more. Some misunderstood while others purposefully misconstrued my intentions. No citizens in the history of this nation have been more patriotic than Black Americans who have contributed despite being the only population forcibly brought to this country and subjected to the shame of this nation, enslavement.
Despite that decadent past, and an oppressive present, Black Americans spare no sacrifice for the greater good of a nation that they love even though, as one basketball coach put it, America does not love them back.
This continues to be a country in which no federal law prohibits lynching. This continues to be a nation where there is no willingness at the highest levels to firmly commit to permanent and stringent enforcement of the right for every American to vote. This continues to be a nation in which media and lawmakers spew divisive dogma on a regular basis, rather than espouse conciliatory themes that nurture unity. This continues to be a nation in which the plea of those targeted by the brutality and barbarism of rogue cops is purposefully perverted and misinterpreted as anti-police rhetoric.
There has been substantial progress in America since my untimely demise in 1968. There is no need to enunciate the obvious. You need only look around and compare conditions of my era with those of today to know it is true.
But we mislead ourselves and one another whenever we massage the nation’s shortcomings with the rationale that things are better than they used to be. Things may not be what they used to be… but things are certainly nothing close to what they should be because justice and freedom remain threats to the privileged.
I conclude this missive from beyond with the caveat that no matter how discouraging the moment, be not weary in your well doing. Let no one convince you that the way it is, is your destiny.
Remember those who proclaimed Black people would never work certain jobs alongside whites; that hotels would never be obligated to accommodate all races; that children of all ethnicities would never sit in the same classroom; that neighborhoods would never sell homes to whomever could afford the mortgage; that we would never see a Black person in the highest elective offices in the land.
Those who believe God is real know that anything is possible and that the manner in which we treat those considered the least among us reflects one’s Christian walk. There is much work to be done and far too few willing to do it, but that’s the way it’s been from the beginning and regrettably will likely be the perpetual challenge to change. But we must press on.
Along with recognizing our hurtful reality, our spirits and resolve must be rooted in seeing how far we’ve come by God’s grace and mercy. No matter what we confront in America, there is nothing too hard for God. Keep up the good fight. My mountaintop vision was not a mirage. We will be free someday.
God bless, strengthen, guide, encourage you and keep you … one and all. We shall overcome!
In Eternal Love and Peace,
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected] yahoo.com.