The recent opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall brought back thoughts and memories of a special era.
After the March on Washington in 1963, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “”I Have a Dream” speech, King was invited to a White House reception that evening. President John F. Kennedy greeted him with the words King had used to stir crowds of many thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial earlier in the day.
When King walked through the receiving line, Kennedy told him with a smile, “I have a dream.” Both men had dreams worthy of America. King’s dream was of a racially equal and just America. We have come a long way, but we still have a way to go.
Kennedy’s dream was for mankind to know no limits in great achievements in science (we had at that point begun planning to land on the moon), and no limits to the search for world peace. Both men were beloved for their ideals and spirited approach in their beliefs, and inspired people to believe that all good things were possible.
What is lacking today in the vast number of Republican presidential candidates is a great moral drive for a better and more humane world. None of the candidates are reaching for the stars – inspiring the great ideals that are possible to fulfill. Have any of the Republican candidates taken note of the extreme poverty in this country and the high rate of joblessness, except to call President Barack Obama the “food stamp president”?
Obama has tried to spotlight those in need, but lacks the will to put up a fight. Both Kennedy and King were inspired by dreams of a better America and a better world. Where are such leaders now?
Where are the idealists who seek peace and justice? They are certainly not at the top of the current Supreme Court, nor visible in the current “do-nothing” Congress.
Kennedy uttered his famous words, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” at his inauguration on Jan. 20, 1961. He had known war and family tragedy. King had seen suffering and incomprehensible racial oppression. Both men were visionaries. They knew that mankind should no longer tolerate injustice and prejudice because of the color of one’s skin.
Kennedy and King gave Americans hope. With their words, they gave us a different way of thinking about the world we live in, and inspired us to do our part.
As I read different famous quotations by Martin Luther King Jr., I think it is a shame we have forgotten many of his words. King once said that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. … The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” He sure was right – first we invade Afghanistan, then Iraq – is Iran next?
Some of King’s followers were unhappy when he became very vocal against the Vietnam War, fearing he was abandoning the civil rights movement. In his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech, King said, “Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid to waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.” Another quotation that is very pertinent today – take out Vietnam and insert your pick of Middle Eastern countries.
Where are such men now?