So many things have changed since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tragic and premature death. The country that was divided mostly along racial lines that he sought to heal and palliate is now divided more by ideology. His cardinal wisdom and teachings endure, can be universally applied, and appertain as much today as then.
King was a highly principled man, driven by self-evident truths and fundamental values. He referred often to those values. “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.” Some of those values were the very principles upon which the nation was founded, that he found lacking in their application to all Americans equally. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
He was an ardent advocate of freedom and individual liberty. While his teachings were framed in a culture of racism and racial discord, they apply universally to all Americans in the quest for individual liberty. As he said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Certainly those are wise words of encouragement to those of us who object to the usurpation of individual freedom by a government seeking to micromanage its citizens.
He continued, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” Individual and universal freedom was fundamental to him, without regard to ethnicity, and he advocated freedom, as opposed to government programs that diminish it.
On another occasion he said, “I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.”
He taught, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” He worked hard, understood how hard work develops character, and likely would not be a proponent of our welfare state, which in effect relinquishes personal responsibility and accountability to the state.
He likely would have consternation for those who engage in identity politics that are so pervasive today, where politicians sell out to special interests for votes, rather than doing what’s best for the nation. For as he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” And as if to underscore this notion, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
Edmund Burke, considered the father to conservatism, said, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” King echoed that sentiment, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
I think Martin Luther King would have concurred with Morgan Freeman, who was interviewed a few years ago in a “60 Minutes” segment with Mike Wallace. Wallace started out, “Black History Month, you find…”, Freeman interjected, “Ridiculous.”
FREEMAN: You’re going to relegate my history to a month?
WALLACE: Come on.
FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Come on, tell me.
WALLACE: I’m Jewish.
FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?
WALLACE: There isn’t one.
FREEMAN: Why not? Do you want one?
WALLACE: No, no.
FREEMAN: I don’t either. I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.
WALLACE: How are we going to get rid of racism until…?
FREEMAN: Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You’re not going to say, ‘I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.’ Hear what I’m saying?”
Freeman, in that brief exchange, echoed MLK’s conviction, that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” For your enduring wisdom, we honor you, Martin Luther King, and your work. May we embody and perpetuate the truths you taught.
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