Monday, January 15, 2007

"I Have a Dream" - Martin Luther King - 1963

March on Washington, 1963:

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: `We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will both be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day down in Alabama… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with the little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.”


Self-Evidence

It is not self-evident that all men are created equal. It is self evident only in the United States of America as a political covenant with an originally religious base that “all men are created equal.” Chesterton said: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim ot justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived.” Similarly, Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J. said: “On the formation of the United States of America – the first state in the history of the world that was established by the uniquely revolutionary means of a formal constitutional consent- these principles received an expression that was indeed colored to some extent by eighteenth-century ideology, but not to the point of obscuring or deforming the great medieval tradition of constitutionalism that had been preserved and developed in Anglo-Saxon political society.”[1]

The Ontological Grounding of Self-Evidence:

Benedict XVI said:

“Let us return to the question of how it is possible to strengthen law and the good in our societies so that they can do battle against naiveté and cynicism without imposing the power of law by external coercion or defining it arbitrarily6. In this context, de Tocqueville’s analysis in Democracy in America has always impressed me. This great political thinker saw one essential precondition for the cohesion of this fragile structure, which made possible the regulation of freedoms in a communal experience of freedom. This precondition lay in the vitality in America of a basic moral conviction (nourished by Protestantism) that supplied the foundational structures of institutions and democratic mechanisms, and it is perfectly true that institutions cannot survive and work effectively without shared ethical convictions. These, however, cannot be the product of merely empirical reason. Even majority decisions become truly human and rational only when they presuppose a basic human element that they respect as the real common good that is the presupposition of all other good things. Such convictions demand corresponding human attitudes, but these attitudes cannot flourish unless the historical basis of a culture and the ethical-religious insights that it preserves are taken seriously. A culture and a nation that cuts itself off from the great ethical and religious forces of its own history commits suicide. The cultivation of essential moral insights, preserving and protecting these as a common possession but without imposing them by force, seems toa be one condtion for the continued existence of freedom in the face of all the nihilisms and their totalitarian consequences.

“It is here that I see the public task of the Christian churches in today’s world. It accords with the nature of the Church that it is separated from the state and that its faith may not be imposed by the state but is based on convictions that are freely arrived at. Origen made a fine comment here, which unfortunately has not received the attention it deserves: `Christ does not win victory over anyone who does not wish it. He conquers only by convincing, for he is the Word of God.’ It is an essential aspect of the Church that it is neither the state nor a part of the state but fellowship based on conviction. But it is also essentially aware of its responsibility for the totality: it cannot accept a limitation to its own affairs. On the basis of its own freedom, it must address the freedom of all human beings so that the moral forces of history may remain forces in the present. This will permit people, in continually changing circumstances, to grasp the evidential character of those values without which a shared freedom is impossible.”
[2]

And again from Ratzinger: “What is essential is that reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational, just as the state that aims at being perfect becomes tyrannical. Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason. The connection between the state and its Christian foundations is imperative precisely if it is to remain the state and be pluralist.”
[3]

Martin Luther King finished his 1963 “I dream” speech that galvanized America:

“Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”


**************

Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was born Michael Luther King, Jr., but later had his name changed to Martin. His grandfather began the family's long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until the present, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther acted as co-pastor. Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had been graduated. After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. in 1951. With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955. In Boston he met and married Coretta Scott, a young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family.In 1954, Martin Luther King accepted the pastorale of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. He was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, "l Have a Dream", he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.

[1] John Courtney Murray, S.J. “Contemporary Orientations of Catholic Thught on Church and State in the lLight of History,” Theological Studies, Vol. X, June, 1949, 187.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Values in a Time of Upheaval,” Ignatius (2006) 51-52.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Church, Ecumenism and Politics,” Crossroad (1988) 218.

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