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Martin Luther King Jr.

January 15, 2010

In Atlanta, GA on January 15th, 1929, the best known black civil rights leader in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was born. Since being pegged to lead the Montgomery, AL bus boycotts at the age of 26, King has been an American symbol of strength, perseverance, hope, justice, and love. To honor his courage and life’s work we, as a nation, take a day (this coming Monday) to pause and reflect on the man and his purpose. (A quick aside to recognize my alma mater for finally acknowledging the importance of this holiday of reflection. Along with a day of no classes, the university encourages service on that day and even organizes such service opportunities.)

Dr. King preached a position of non-violent resistance that he saw in action in the life of Gandhi. He endured firebombings, threats, arrest, police violence, and vicious hatred and responded with justice and love. Through his leadership, the buses of Montgomery were desegregated as well as lunch-counters and other businesses. King’s work proved the effectiveness of non-violent resistance of systemic oppression.

Though his actions were powerful, Dr. King is perhaps better known for his rhetorical prowess. His speeches combined soaring rhetoric, Biblical allusion, historical context, and a powerful message of freedom and hope that ignited the passion of a nation to struggle for justice. Dr. King, sadly, was ruthlessly taken from this world before his dream of a more just society could be realized. Much like Moses, he was aware that he would likely not see the fruits of his work, but he knew that his cause was just. The night before he was assassinated by a coward, Dr. King delivered his powerful, almost prophetic speech, “I See the Promised Land” that concludes:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

This weekend, let’s not forget Dr. King’s struggle or forget that the fight for justice and equality is not yet finished–but we’re inching closer toward the promised land.

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