A Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. statue in Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King Statue Monument in Washington DC

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day. It is a day that carries great meaning for many people, but also a day some seem to ignore, as if it was a secondary holiday of little importance. While many celebrate it, and spend it volunteering to help others, some keep working as if this day meant nothing.

I have chosen to pause and think for a while. I’m thinking of a nation that should have been healing, but is more divided than it has been for a long time. I wonder if what I was taught in Italy, when I was growing up, was actually true at all. I was taught that the United States had abolished racism and was growing out of it, healing the great divide between ethnic groups. Was it more of a wishful thinking than actual history? Today I find in the United States a nation in need of healing, a nation in which the words of Martin Luther King Jr. still echo with truth, and in which the need for change is still quite present.

Many of us remember some of the words of a famous, iconic speech which the phrase “I have a dream” has come to represent. But there are a number of other words from Dr. King that are not so known or remembered, and yet continue to be true today, in a nation still ailing with the deep rooted disease of racism and indifference. I would like to share some of those words here today.

Listen and Learn

Yesterday, at church, I have asked for the forgiveness of our black brothers and sisters for my ignorance. I had believed what I heard in school in Italy. I believed that racism in the US was a thing of the past, but I realize now that I was wrong. Years ago, one of our senior members patiently sat with me and told me what he had gone through as a black man growing up in Rhode Island. I listened with great interest and sadness. It seemed to me that he was talking about a generation past, however, and I thought that what he had described was now gone.

I was wrong. Yes, some things may be better today than what he recounted as his experience when he was young. But the root of those problems is still present, and ready to raise its ugly head again. That is why I asked their forgiveness for my ignorance, for not understanding, and for not seeking to understand as much as I should have. Today I know that I need to listen more, and I promised that I would do just that: listen and learn.

In that spirit of listening, I am offering today several quotes from Dr. King. I believe they should move us to think — and think deeply — about the state of things not only in this Country, but most importantly in our hearts.

“I Have a Dream!”

I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. […]

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, 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!”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Other quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.

We are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains? The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it … It was upon this massive base of racism that the prejudice toward the nonwhite was readily built, and found rapid growth. This long-standing racist ideology has corrupted and diminished our democratic ideals. It is this tangled web of prejudice from which many Americans now seek to liberate themselves, without realizing how deeply it has been woven into their consciousness.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…

United States Declaration of Independence

Food for thought … !

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