Monday, January 21

I have a dream

"Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ."
(Ephesians 4:31-32 GNB)

Today, across this nation, we celebrate the life of a man who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial about freedom, a freedom that started so long ago in the actions of one great American President through the enacting of the Emancipation Proclamation, which began what another great American called “joyous daybreak to end the long night” of black enslavement.

But the journey into that long awaited daybreak was still hampered by the fears and mistreatment of blacks, or African-Americans, by other Americans and laws that did not fulfill the dream of that President of long ago, Abraham Lincoln.

I was born in September of the year of the great Detroit riots, began when Detroit Police raided an after-hours club in a predominately black neighborhood at Twelfth and Clairmount. A party celebrating the return of two Vietnam Vets graduated into riots that rendered the Northwest side of Detroit a war zone of looters, fires and vandalism. Within 48 hours, with the riots spread to the East side, the National Guard was mobilized to assist the overwhelmed Police Department. They were further assisted, four days later, by the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army.

At the conclusion of riot, 43 people had died, 1,189 were injured, and 7,000 were arrested.

Events like police abuse in the form of the “Tac Squad” that roamed the streets to harass the black youths; verbally abusing them, asking for identification, and physical abuse that led to some of these ‘stops’ leading to injury or death, and other forms of police brutality were the number one reason that the black community gave for problems in the city prior to the riot. Affordable housing and the specter of urban renewal which destroyed many predominately black neighborhoods were a few of the other reasons Detroit burned for five days.

Militant leaders for the black community such as the Reverend Albert Cleague, who spoke of self-determination and separatism for blacks, and H. Rap Brown, who foresaw a future of the famed Motown city burning down by the disenfranchised black community were at odds with a mayor who appointed African Americans to prominent administrative positions and enjoyed good relationships with civil right groups.

This was the atmosphere to which a young Baptist preacher named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to almost four years prior upon the steps of the Lincoln Memorial......the Detroit riots were only the result of not listening to the cry of an abused segment of the American nation.

The “I have a dream” speech on August 28, 1963, mobilized support of desegregation and caused the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This speech is the most famous of King’s speeches of equality and justice for all people.

But I don’t think that Dr. King would be happy with a celebration of his life, for that wasn’t why he spoke of the “manacles of segregation and discrimination” that still plagued African-Americans in the decades since Lincoln’s Proclamation of Freedom for this beleaguered segment of the American people.

Dr. King correctly identified what the Founding Fathers of the American Nation intended with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence that formed the base of the new Republic when he spoke of “a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As King said, America as a nation had defaulted upon that promise to its African-American members and through inaction of Lincoln’s decree had thereby weakened the foundational strength of the Republic as a whole.

United we stand, Divided we fall.

But Dr. King didn’t call for the militant actions of the likes of Reverend Cleague or H. Rap Brown. Dr. King emulated the verses in Ephesians as he called for the African-American populace to “conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” “We must not allow our creative protest,” King admonished the people gathered near the Memorial, “to degenerate into physical violence.” The cry was to stand at the end of the journey to justice and the full realization of the African-American’s right of citizenship with an clear slate, free of violence, bitterness, and hatred.

Indeed, Dr. King pointed out that many whites were in attendance at the protest and called for the African-Americans to not distrust the growing segment of the white population that realized “their destiny is tied up with our destiny……We cannot walk alone.” Dr. King reminded us all on that sweltering day in August that the dream he had was a dream of all Americans, freedom and justice that fueled the equality of all who stood beneath the flag of the USA.

Dr Martin Luther King isn’t the only one whose dream we should remember this day.

We should also remember the dream of our Heavenly Father that all of His children should be able to gather together in peace, under the realization that “all men are created equal”; equal in sin and the need of salvation. A dream where everyone is not judged by the color of skin, the mistakes of the past, or even the sins of the present but by the understanding that all “have fallen short of the glory of God.”

As Dr. King said, “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.”

Together, in faith, I know that we can bring honor to our Heavenly Father and those like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who stood out for the truth of all of God’s children to work, pray, struggle, and stand together for the freedom of a redeemed people.

As it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s hope, so it should be the hope of each Christian in the world today, that “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!”."

We can honor our God and our King by remembering that we are all God’s children, called to love one another as Christ loved us and to seek salvation as one people, broken and sinful, through the truth of Jesus Christ.

That is, I believe, what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would want us to strive for today, as he did back in 1963. Truth and salvation together as children of the Most High God.

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