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January 28, 2011

The Real Dr. King

Derek Shackelford

Holidays named to honor people are reminders of the significant impact that they have had on others and the world at large. It has been two weeks since this nation has celebrated the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, one such honoree.


Dr. King is the first person to have a holiday named in his honor who had not been president of The United States, celebrating the significant impact that his life had on humanity all over the world. What should be duly noted about this holiday is the way that it is celebrated or remembered in these particular times.


It would appear that we have sanitized Dr. King’s life to the point that we don’t want the prophetic Dr. King but the one who makes us feel comfortable. We don’t want the Dr. King who challenges us as individuals, as a nation or the world at large, but rather the Dr. King who cleanses us from any personal or national responsibility whether it be moral, civic, political or social.


Now, when one examines his life there are many facets and it would be difficult to pick just one. It is obvious when one studies his life that Dr. King was not one who shied away from controversy or from speaking the truth, thus the attraction to the more sanitized version.


The version we want is the one in which Dr. King challenged no one, spoke against no wars, no racial injustice and no mention of speaking boldly in regards to the moral compass of America. It is sad that all we can recount is that he was born in 1929 and died in 1968, and his famous speech was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during what became known as the March on Washington.


From that we choose to focus on the three-minute segment of his “I Have a Dream” speech in which he said he wanted his children “judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This was Dr. King speaking in the prophetic. How powerful these words certainly are. What should be noted about the speech is the previous 14 minutes about how racial injustice needed to be eradicated, and, in order for America to live up to its creed, then it needed to come to grips with the true meaning of justice.


This was just a snippet of who Dr. King was. He was not allowed to preach in pulpits of northern churches because of the controversy that came along with his appearances.


Dr. King was arrested for civil disobedience and incarcerated for leading marches. There were many who did not agree with his stance of non-violence. Yet the masses benefited from his and others sacrifice.


The movement that Dr. King led was not a popular one. Dr. King spoke out against the Vietnam War and this was not a popular position. The FBI wiretapped his conversations and labeled him a communist. This nation’s government labeled his economic ideology as Marxist. He was stabbed during a protest march, his house was burned and his family constantly harassed. All this while he did not benefit economically from his efforts in the civil rights movement and lived a most modest lifestyle. Yet, we still want the sanitized version of Dr. King.


When I think about this holiday, or more importantly his life, I come to but one conclusion and that is that his life should be celebrated. While at the same time the glimpses of his life say to me that America needs to be a better nation.


If America is to be better, then we cannot become so comfortable in believing that because a few of us have “arrived” then all is well. The struggle still continues. Injustice still rears its ugly head in our landscape. The economic pendulum still leaves too many behind.


Why is this important? It is because on the last night of his life, Dr. King was standing and speaking on behalf of Memphis sanitation workers who were being unfairly treated. People living in poverty says so much about the priorities of a nation. There is a place for personal responsibility but along with this must come economic justice that replaces greed.


While Dr. King is noted for his role in the civil rights movement, in order for us to truly appreciate his life and work we must go beyond the surface and investigate the fabric of his very being. The fabric of that being was his love for God which in turn led to his love for humanity. It was love that motivated him to do what he did. It was love that kept him encouraged during the days of discouragement. It was his love for the World, America and humanity that he was willing to die so that many could live.


So, while some may want the sanitized Dr. King, I will take the one who stood on the principle of love that he was willing to sacrifice his life for others. When no one else stood, he stood alone.


Why is this important? Because what I take from his life is that love is an action word that should always be on display. Love may not always be the easy choice, but it is the right choice.


So, today – and everyday – I choose to love everybody, even mine enemies.


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