MLK, The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Today, we have the privilege of remembering and honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—one of those rare people who come along once in a generation and make an impact that stretches far beyond them. Today, I’m sure we’ll hear many quotes from his famous “I have a dream” speech—and for good reason. (Let freedom ring…”) But part of what makes Dr. King great is that his dream wasn’t just for himself. It was for all of us.  

Unfortunately, we take what he did, what he lived through, and what he sacrificed and put it in a nice little box called “the dream.” But, this dream was so much bigger than himself—and it cost him his life. Yet even before his assassination, his life was never his own. He gave up desires, aspirations, for “the dream.” He struggled personally.

I want to really remember him—who he was at the core: a man who desperately wanted racial injustice to end, but struggled as to how best to help bring it about. 

Trusting Convictions

Early on, he had times when he questioned his faith—trying to decide if he believed the same way his father and others seemed to around him. He wondered if religion was more of a show that people put on, as opposed to something really meaningful. He struggled with social constructs. He met and began to date a white woman while in graduate school. But, after a while, pressure from outside forces eventually brought their relationship to an end. He also struggled with his platform. Martin believed strongly we should love everyone, because we are all God’s creations. Yet, despite his convictions, toward the end of his life there were several times he questioned if the non-violent path was the way to take. 

It wasn’t until I was older and read more about his life and background that I learned any of this. That’s unfortunate, because as a black man, if it took me that long to hear these things, I know there must be plenty of people that will never know about his struggles. Looking at today’s climate, even though there has been progress, we are not too far from where Dr. King left us. 

Another America

This divided nation is not anything new. On April 14, 1967 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech at Stanford University titled “The Other America.” See if it sounds familiar. It sounds like it was written yesterday. 

During his address he talked about the undeniable differences there are for American citizens. 

“But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America….

As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams. Many people of various backgrounds live in this other America. Some are Mexican Americans, some are Puerto Ricans, some are Indians, some happen to be from other groups. Millions of them are Appalachian whites. But probably the largest group in this other America in proportion to its size in the Population is the American Negro.

The American Negro finds himself living in a triple ghetto. A ghetto of race, a ghetto of poverty, a ghetto of human misery. So what we are seeking to do in the Civil Rights Movement is to deal with this problem. To deal with this problem of the two Americas. We are seeking to make America one nation, Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In 2021, we are still seeking that.

Finding Answers

At first glance it seems hopeless. Why are we still trying to achieve equality? When will the cries for “liberty and justice for all” be no longer needed? Where will we get our answers? I believe we’ll find those answers in the same place Dr. King did. Though he struggled, he always went back to the Bible, to his faith, and his confidence in our Savior. 

…We’re gonna win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands.

And so I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.” We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward Justice.

…With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the 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 live together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation. That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow. In the words of the Scripture, to speak symbolically, that will be the day when the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.”

So, as we remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, let’s also learn from him. As we see what’s going on in our country, let’s remember it’s not our true home—only a temporary assignment, that hopefully we are shedding light, love, and hope in; like Martin did. And as we carry out our assignment, whether struggling with our faith, relationships, or platform, let’s lean on and into our faith as we continue to push forward.