We observe Dr. King’s birthday today. Those who assume he would be satisfied with the state of the nation today don’t understand his powerful commitment to justice for all, and his constitutional inability to to sit by while people are being oppressed.
Dr. King was deeply unpopular among White people all across the country when he was alive. I remember as a child (living in the Mid-West, before we moved to Tennessee) that he was regularly referred to by White people as “Martin Lucifer Coon.” He is honored today mostly in the breach. Those who believe that his work has been completed, that there is no more injustice, only people unworthy of justice, have rendered him a kindly, enfeebled set of clichés. But he was a fierce and powerful prophet who took up his cross and followed Jesus right into martyrdom. He would do no less today.
You’ve seen the clips of the speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (Note the full name of the march, and the intimate interconnection in the Civil Rights Movement between economic and political justice–something too many people want to forget.) But have you read Letter from a Birmingham Jail? It is a powerful indictment of those who stand by, those who believe that we just need more time, those who claim to be well-meaning but are satisfied with the status quo nonetheless. Here’s an abridged version of the letter. Take ten minutes today to set aside the ceaseless, selfish, stupid, ridiculous, inane trivialities of contemporary U.S. life and honor Dr. King–the real Dr. King–by reading his arguments for the fierce urgency of now, as compelling and penetrating today as they were in 1963.