Excerpts from Martin Luther King’s speech:
“Facing The Challenge Of A New Age”December 1956 – Montgomery, AL
I am about to close now. But before closing I must correct what might be a false impression. I am afraid that if I close at this point many will go away misinterpreting my whole message. I have talked about the new age which is fastly coming into being. I have talked about the fact that God is working in history to bring about this new age. There is the danger, therefore, that after hearing all of this you will go away with the impression that we can go home, sit down, and do nothing, waiting for the coming of the inevitable. You will somehow feel that this new age will roll in on the wheels of inevitability, so there is nothing to do but wait on it. If you get that impression you are the victims of a dangerous optimism. If you go away with that interpretation you are the victims of an illusion wrapped in superficiality. We must speed up the coming of the inevitable.
Now it is true, if I may speak figuratively, that Old Man Segregation is on his death-bed. But history has proved that social systems have a great last minute breathing power, and the guardians of a status-quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive. Segregation is still a fact in America. We still confront it in the South in its glaring and conspicuous forms. We still confront it in the North in its hidden and subtle forms. But if Democracy is to live, segregation must die. Segregation is a glaring evil. It is utterly unchristian. It relegates the segregated to the status of a thing rather than elevate him to the status of a person. Segregation is nothing but slavery covered up with certain niceties of complexity. Segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we all have in Christ Jesus.
He goes on to talk about the need for political leaders in our country that embrace justice and equality and human dignity. He pauses for a prayer:
God give us leaders.
A time like this demands great leaders.
Leaders whom the lust of office cannot kill;
Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy;
Leaders who have honor; leaders who will not lie;
Leaders who can stand before demagogue and damn his
treacherous flatteries without winking.
Tall leaders, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
in public duty and in private thinking.
He also provides us with a challenge to do our part – no matter how big or small… and to do it well. He uses a quote from Douglas Mallock:
If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill
Be a scrub in the valley–but be
The best little scrub by the side of the hill,
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway just be a trail
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or fail–
Be the best of whatever you are.
I am too young to have been exposed to Dr. King – to have understood the implications of the risks and sacrifices he was taking for the people of his day, and for future generations. But at an early age, I learned of this man and his commitment to justice and mercy and freedom. And to this day, I am continually encouraged and challenged by Dr. King’s words and take seriously his charge to all mankind… regardless of color, race, or origin. I think that often we assume that his work was primarily for the good of black Americans. It was for their benefit and for their rights. But I for one, a Mzungu (white person in Swahili)… am indebted. I cherish my friendships from other races, other countries, other cultures. I have learned so much from their lives, their experiences, their differences. I am grateful for their leadership in our country, our churches, and our communities. Not to mention arts, science, entertainment and their entrepreneurialship. It would be a sad and a severely less developed world without their presence and contribution. And I for one, am grateful. So Martin Luther King Jr’s work was for me, too. And I am grateful to those who picked up the mantle and persevered on our behalf. We have come along way – but we still have a long way to go. Yes, we have a long way to go…
Below is a quote from Dr. King that I carry in my Bible… it is a reminder that I have a responsibility to the freedoms I am afforded. For the freedoms who others have purchased for me… and purchased at a high cost.
“Those of you who are white and want to help us… but can’t because of the shackles of law, family, society… do not worry… we will soon liberate you.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.
Facing the Challenge of a New Age