On the third Monday in January, we celebrate the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) Dr. King is known in the mainstream as a “dreamer.” His “I Have a Dream” speech is arguably his most famous one. This speech was given on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington. However, Dr. King was more than a dreamer. He was a radical, a fierce lover of community (not just the Black community) and a champion for the oppressed, for God’s people. He was even willing to go to jail in his fight against discriminatory treatment of the poor and oppressed.
Rev. King was also a preacher of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Many of his sermons combine the topic of the fight for social justice in the United States with the fight for social justice during the time of Jesus. Just as the Pharisees and the Sadducees viewed Jesus as a troublemaker, many of Martin Luther King’s contemporaries in the ministry treated him as a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser, an impatient person who did not “know his place.”
Ironically, the speech that gets quoted most often actually challenges the government of the United States to treat all of its citizens equally. Yet, the quotes from the speech are usually taken from the last paragraphs of the text where Dr. King declared, “I have a dream…” My favorite parts of the speech hardly ever get mentioned. Here they are for contemplation.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
So today and Monday, when we observe the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national holiday, look beyond the dreamer status that people have placed upon him. Learn more about the radical, loving and champion aspects of this great man. Be blessed.