Dr. King’s American Dream


BY JAMES HUG SJAugust 22, 2013

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I am in quiet awe at the courage, commitment, sacrifice and dedication of so many.  No one could have guessed as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called eloquently for freedom and an end to segregation that 50 years later an African American President of the United States would stand on the same spot in 2013 calling the nation into a more just future.  Still, I agree with those who point out that the need for jobs and economic justice is as great today as it was 50 years ago.  Nearly all the economic gains in the U.S. over the last several decades have trickled up to the wealthiest.

We will hear a lot in these days of celebration of Dr. King’s magnificent “I have a Dream” speech.  It is worth watching or reading again as part of the national tribute.

But a lesser-known Dream speech is perhaps more poignant and challenging for us today: his commencement address at Lincoln University in 1961: “The American Dream.”

Here are a few of Dr. King’s prophetic words worth reflecting on:

“…in a real sense, America is essentially a dream, a dream as yet unfulfilled… A dream of a land where [people] of all races, of all nationalities, of all creeds can live together as brothers [and sisters]….”

“…all of us must develop a world perspective if we are to survive.  The American Dream will not become a reality devoid of the larger dream of a world of brotherhood [and sisterhood] and peace and good will.”

“Through our scientific genius we have made of this world a neighborhood; now through our moral and spiritual development we must make of it a [family].

About a visit to India: “How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes millions of people going to bed hungry at night? …millions of people sleeping on the sidewalk at night?  … [W]e in America cannot stand idly by and not be concerned…. ‘Oh, no, because the destiny of the United States is tied up with … the destiny of every other nation.’”

“…I remembered that we spend more than a million dollars a day to store surplus food in this country.  I said to myself, ‘I know where we can store that food free of charge–in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of people who go to bed hungry at night.’”

“Maybe we spend too much of our national budget building military bases around the world, rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.

“All this is simply to say that all life is interrelated.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

“We must keep our moral and spiritual progress abreast with our scientific and technological advances…. [W]e have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live…. [W]e are in danger now of ending up with guided missiles in the hands of misguided [people].”

“Even a superficial look at history shows that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless effort and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.”

“And so, as you go out today, I call upon you not to be detached spectators, but involved participants, in this great drama that is taking place in our nation and around the world.”

Wise, prophetic guidance for us today.  Amen.

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