Today is a holiday in the US. Well, kind of. I mean it’s a holiday that everyone should be observing, but sadly there are many who make it optional.
To me, there is nothing optional about Martin Luther King, Jr.
What could a white woman of decent privilege mean by this? Being both Jewish and gay, I know a little about discrimination, but for me that discrimination generally comes only when I have “outed” myself. Otherwise I walk through the world with pretty easy steps, facing the specter of bigotry only on occasion for the one minority group to which I belong from which I cannot generally hide – that of being a woman. (It will be a great day when we can not only stamp out racial bigotry but also the insidious hatred of misogyny, but that is a post for another day.)
There are those, however, who do not have this luxury. Whether that be the color of their skin, a blatant outward presentation of religious or sexual orientation. Or just being different. There are those whose paths through the world are fraught with challenge and, indeed, depending on where they are, danger. There are those who put their own lives and safety in harm’s way in order to battle bigotry and discrimination. I’ve written here before about my rise to activism in 2008 – a direct result of the passage in California of Proposition 8, which took away my rights as a lesbian to marry, turning me into a second class citizen in my own state.
To be fair, the discrimination I may face on any given day pales in comparison to the stories I have read and heard – some distant history and others related to me by people in my immediate world today – but the root that leads to the behavior resulting in discrimination is the same no matter where you go.
Fear of change.
Fear that one’s world will be shattered.
Fear of the unknown.
This word rings in my ears and heart with a freshness born from my experiences in Peru over the holidays. An array of blog posts about this journey are coming in the next couple of weeks, and it feels fitting, somehow to be teeing them up on a day dedicated to remembering a man whose voice rings clearly through time and whose messages carry as much weight today as ever.
With that, I am compelled to share the full version of Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. There are many myths around this speech, one of which is that it was delivered not from pages on the lectern, but as an impromptu sermon.
Obviously I wasn’t there, but I had the true honor of meeting Clarence Jones last year and talking with him at length about this speech. You see, Clarence Jones worked side-by-side with Dr. King and had a hand in writing many of the speeches we know today. As Mr. Jones explained it, Dr. King began the speech from the prepared text, and a few minutes in, that changed. Legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was sitting just behind and to the side of Dr. King on the dais. She called out, “Tell them about your dream, Martin. Tell them about your dream.”
Dr. King then paused, and turning over the text began to speak. Mr. Jones told me, “No one there knew that they were about to go to church.”
And go they did … as we do now all these years later.
Thank you, Dr. King. For your inspiration and motivation. May we honor your legacy and continue the march.
UPDATE: adding in here another video – that of Dr. King’s very last speech given, I believe, right before (as in night before) his assassination. His language, in hindsight, is eerily precognitive. In a conversation with Clarence Jones (who, btw, is at the Kennedy Center TODAY to be honored by President Obama!), he spoke of Dr. King’s belief that he would be killed. Dr. King apparently lived most all days of his life after becoming a major force in the Civil Rights movement, believing that day may be his last. Mr. Jones explained that this particular speech carried an even heavier weight on that. Dr. King had apparently had some dreams to the effect that his time was nearing an end. If you look at the very end of the video and see the way in which Dr. King collapses into his chair, you can get a sense of the deep channeling of energy that truly ran through him for these last, motivational words.
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