Dr. King’s 86th Birthday Letter to America (2015)

In 1958 On a warm summer evening in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the ripe age of 29, delivered a speech to the Commission on Ecumenical Missions and Relations of the United Presbyterian church entitled “Paul’s Letter to American Christians.”   In this, one of my favorite King-ian speeches, young King takes an imaginary journey into the heart of the great Apostle Paul and imagines with these clergymen what the apostle Paul would have to say to their generation about the role of the Church in the struggle for civil rights for ALL Americans.  He understood (as most great leaders do), the importance of speaking truth to your audience in a voice that is relevant to their time and context.

Just as Dr. King pondered what the Apostle Paul might say to HIS generation, I too am curious as to what Dr. King would say to us on his 86th birthday.  So please allow me to stretch my creative muscles and give you an imaginary letter from the pen of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

My Dear Sisters and Brothers.  My parents, and my children.  To my circle of friends in love; I greet you by the grace of Almighty God.  As my life’s season pivots to winter I thought it necessary to write to you.  As I watch our beloved country through the lens of these weary eyes, my heart rejoices at the advancements and innovations of the times.  The world has moved from the distant 6 degrees of separation, to the 1 degree of iPhonation.  You have made the lifespan of the American longer than we ever could have imagined.  God has blessed this country with great prosperity and power, and for that I offer thanksgiving.  To watch the nation come together; white and black, gay and straight, old and young standing together in solidarity on September 11th was a small glimpse into a dream. And then the unspeakable happened.  As powerful as my dreams have been; none of them were prophetic enough to see what my eyes eventually beheld.  I prepared to meet my Savior when My soul nearly separated  from my body as I witnessed Senator Barack Obama become the President of the United States of America. I could hear Sister Aretha Franklin singing “Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain…”  God has seen me through many hard trials.  And I have considered myself a man of faith.  But when I realized what had taken place…I knew without a shadow of a doubt, that God is real!  Coretta and I prayed and we cried.  Prayers and Tears of thanksgiving, but also of terrible fear. 

My dear Americans, for all the joy I have experienced, I have endured equal measure of disappointment and shame.  In the 1960’s and 70’s we engaged in an unfair fight with an enemy who had no intention of retreat.  But with courage and God, we DID overcome.  And as I watch LEADERS, those whom God has allowed to stand before the people and rule, continue to act with reckless disregard for others; my heart aches.  When and where did we lose our ability to meet a challenge with strength and grace? Why have the street gangs become Junior Varsity to the professional gang approach that has plagued our National Political Process?  The children are being socialized to think that disrespect and disengagement is the way to solve a problem.  I call today for Courageous people who as I said, will build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear!  Partisan bickering and idealogical standoffs must come to an end!  The stakes are too high.  The future is to fickle.  Everyone must decide whether they will live in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. We must have the courage to do what we know is the next right thing. 

At the core of my disappointment, I see that something in our society has erased one of the most basic human commands.  What used to be written on the collective conscious of our Nation has been washed out by the waves of hate, jealousy and indifference.  The first commandment that Jesus gave was to Love thy neighbor as thyself. I’ve said and i’ll say it again, darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that!  And I, I have decided to stick with love, for hate is too great a burden to bear.  We must learn…RIGHT NOW…WE must LEARN to live together as brothers and sisters.  OR we will assuredly; soon and very soon; perish together as fools!  I stand with the great hymn writer William Cowper, after he had gone through a horrific life experience:  Brother Cowper came to the place where he could see things more clearly, and he penned those sweet words, “redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be ’til I die!  It’s time now for us to finally exterminate the destructive pest of intolerance and separation. We must find place for love.  A place for “We The People.”  We cannot be satisfied with hate.  We cannot be satisfied with indifference.  We cannot be satisfied with injustice!  For our fate is tied together and there is no force on earth that can reverse that truth.  Come together.  Be community.  So many have sacrificed their lives for you to be together.  Don’t let their living be in vain. 

For you see my dear friends, no matter how wealthy you become; no matter how popular the fad, no matter what political or denominational affiliation; We all must face our end.  And when that time comes,  I want my life to have meant something.  I want to be able to look my family in the eyes as I head to my great gettin’ up mornin’ and tell them that I DID treat people right, and I TRIED to love my neighbor as I love myself.  I DID help somebody, as I passed along. I cheered up my brother with a word and a song.  I’ve shown my sister when she’s travelin’ wrong…And I KNOW my living has NOT been in vain.  I pray for all of you.  I pray that you love yourselves enough to love one another.  I pray that you find a way to forgive one another.  I hope and I pray, that this nation, will finally rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal.”  This is my hope.  Now, may God bless you, and may He keep you.  May his face shine on you, and most of all America, may He give you Peace. 


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