This will be the 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!"Obviously that is a noble sentiment and we should work to bring that day to reality. But less emphasized today is how MLK realistically expected to get there. We could all cite non-violent civil disobedience as his core method, but we also likely downplay the disobedience required for this method to effect real change.
As Juan Cole says:
We honor today a man who repeatedly broke the law. Who conspired to break the law. Who put tens of thousands of people up to breaking the law. He broke the law while adhering to the principle of active non-violence, of loving the jailer and winning over the persecutor. He broke laws that he saw as unjust and unconstitutional, and over time he redefined them as illegitimate by his passionate advocacy.Is anyone today redefining something as unjust as torture as illegitimate with passionate advocacy? A few, but they mostly have little power or following. While those with power or following either quietly try to put it behind us or continue to trumpet torture's necessity, not just its legitimacy.
However, torture is just the most egregious example. There are plenty of other causes that deserve more radical advocacy. MLK gave a list of some of them in a 1963 speech at Western Michigan University:
[T]here are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.Martin Luther King, Jr. was a radical. The best honor I can think of is to do something radical yourself.
UPDATE: Serendipity found me listening to KFAI driving home just after 6 pm. It was playing the keynote speech given by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery at the Martin Luther King Breakfast in Minneapolis today. I'm happy to say we struck the same theme. The audio is here.
UPDATE II: David Pyle has posted a great sermon about the history of MLK and civil rights at the Unitarian Church in Evanston, Illinois.
UPDATE III: Another sermon, this one at my church, Unity Church-Unitarian, by Rob Eller-Isaacs, Setting the Course.