More than a Dream: Dr. King, Militant Moderate

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What a timely reminder of the power of love. Inflammatory political rhetoric complete with loaded guns, cross hairs and bullying talk has plunged this nation into mourning. Even some well-meaning people, only months ago, urged our president to respond in a similar manner.

[Reflections On Dr. King]

The public image of Martin Luther King, Jr. in many ways obscures and diminishes the larger life and vision of a man whose ideals are urgently needed today as we seek recovery from crises brought on by what president Barack Obama describes in his writings  as an "empathy deficit".

Listening to King's words as they appear on the page, gives us a rich opportunity to hear his  wisdom without distraction of sound. Many vital truths critical for the survival can be recovered if we move beyond the often repeated I Have a Dream.

This January 2011, we celebrate the 82nd  birthday of the man born in Atlanta, Georgia 1929. Early in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Claybourne Carson, King notes that he "grew up in a family where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever present."

What a timely reminder of the power of love. Inflammatory political rhetoric complete with loaded guns, cross hairs and bullying talk has plunged this nation into mourning. Even some well-meaning people, only months ago,  urged our president to respond in a similar manner. 

Many of us are grateful that he did not. The "uplifting hereditary environment" of Dr. King's childhood is something we must duplicate for today's young, rather than making them the first targets for budget reductions, school closings, increased tuition, incarceration and the horrors of war.

For King the structure of the human personality is not simplistic. It is quite dynamic. He wrote: "In my own life and in the life of a person who is seeking to be strong, you combine in your character antitheses strongly marked. You are both militant and moderate; you are both idealistic and realistic. And I think that my strong determination for justice comes from the very strong, dynamic personality of my father, and I would hope that the gentle aspect comes from a mother who is very gentle and sweet."

This respect and appreciation for parents remains important.  Of course we must have economic and social conditions which allow parents to be parents and not just wage earners burdened by multiple jobs. The connections between generations is also critical. Cooperation and support must replace what is frequently brutish competition between the older and younger generations.  These understandings of human nature defined by King serve us well in our current struggle to restore family values.

The young King, at approximately age five, questioned his parents about all the people he saw standing in long bread lines.  It's good to remember how well a young child can see before we put them through an educational processes which destroys vision. "They have to find the embodiment of the idea is flesh and blood in order to commit themselves to it," King later said, adding insight to how humans see or fail to see.  An adult King would also warn  that "We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity."To our horror, those long bread lines have returned.  But at least there is the extended unemployment benefits to offer some level of temporary relief.

In Stride Toward Freedom, the Montgomery Story,  Dr. King highlights the need for "deeper strategic insights" as he explains the importance of careful planning, the importance of committees "to give the movement guidance and direction". He says, "I had to  leave the heights and come back to earth. I was faced with a number of organizational decisions." (P. 53) The struggle for social justice does not involve one glorified speech making event following another.  It is a difficult struggle, and planning is central to the struggle. Pragmatics, such as how to finance the movement was and continues to be a primary organizational decision.

Current efforts to distract us from continuing racism are reflected in Why We Can't Wait, the book which includes the Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Here Dr. King quotes The Birmingham News of April 3, 1963 where the front page featured a rising sun glowing over the city.  The caption "New Day Dawns for Birmingham" was calculated to disarm those who fought mightily for social justice. But even as the contemporary author, Michelle Alexander articulates the  ongoing oppression in The New Jim Crow, so Dr. King points out that Albert Boutwell's victory in his bid for mayor gave segregation a more polite face, as compared with that of Bull Connor.  But as we know, "polite" discrimination is among the most deadly forms of discrimination.

January of 1954, King was still known as Mike when he drove to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama, where he preached the trial sermon, "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life."  (P 46 King, A Biography by David L. Lewis).  More than a year later, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks would refuse to give up her seat.  As families gather to celebrate  Dr. King's thirteen years in the fight for freedom and as the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders approaches (14 May 1961)  this is an opportunity to expand our knowledge of King's life through a systematic reading of one or more of his works.

Those who currently plan to get on the bus to retrace this historic journey, will see more of history if they learn more of the man who is, as the ancient Senuseret of XIIth Dynasty Egypt, a King who speaks and acts, a King both militant and moderate.



"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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