Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I Have a Dream” and Letter from a Birmingham Jail

dr-martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream-speech

Every year on this day set aside for celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I make time to listen to or read his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” I encourage you today to read the speech or watch (below) the roughly seventeen-minute speech that King gave over fifty years ago. He articulates a vision that transcends his individual life and puts into eloquent words the deepest longings of many people not only then but also now. This speech still rings with power, reminding us that, as he said, “Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.” We have come so far but we still have so far to go.

I encourage you to go further in understanding Dr. King’s legacy by reading his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” or to read some of his prayers (two examples can be found here and here). You may also be challenged and encouraged by Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” Here is a collect from The Book of Common Prayer related to King’s life and legacy:

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may strive to secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I Have a Dream” and More

dr-martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream-speech

Every year on this day set aside for celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I make time to listen to or read his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” I encourage you today to read the speech or watch (below) the roughly seventeen-minute speech that King gave over fifty years ago. He articulates a vision that transcends his individual life and puts into eloquent words the deepest longings of many people not only then but also now. This speech still rings with power, reminding us that, as he said, “Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.” We have come so far but we still have so far to go.

If you want to take this a step further, consider reading King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” or Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.”

The Continuing Relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

On this day celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to remind us of one of the most significant writings by Martin Luther King, Jr., his letter from a Birmingham jail. Written after King’s arrest, along with 50 others, on April 12, 1963, as part of the Birmingham Campaign to shine a spotlight on the racist treatment suffered by African Americans in one of the most segregated cities in America. Letter from a Birmingham jail is a direct response to criticism that King and the protestors received from religious leaders through an open letter in a local newspaper.

While there is much that could be said about MLK as a leader, orator, pastor, and husband, I want to encourage us to read or listen to the letter (roughly an hour long as read by King). The issues he addresses continue to be important for our day and time as we wrestle with how our faith relates to the public sphere, just and unjust laws, consideration of how our Christian faith moves us to action or to wait, and what it means to lives as kingdom citizens while seeking to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24).

Here are a striking excerpt from the letter:

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

You may also want to explore more of King’s writings, sermons, and speeches through the compilation work A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2003).

Martin Luther King, Jr: ‘I Have a Dream’

dr-martin-luther-king-i-have-a-dream-speechOn this day celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to remind us of one of the unparalleled moments in his life and work.  While there is much that could be said about MLK as a leader, orator, pastor, and husband, I want to encourage you today to simply read or watch (below) the roughly seventeen-minute “I Have a Dream” speech that King gave over fifty years ago. The vision he articulated transcends his individual life and puts into eloquent words the deepest longings of many people then and now. This speech still rings with power, reminding us that, as he said, “Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.” We have come so far but we still have so far to go.

You could also join us later this evening at 6:30 PM for the 3rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration sponsored by The Milwaukee Declaration and hosted at Eastbrook Church. We will have a worship service led by multiple churches and pastors as we stand together across racial divides in our city for the goal of racial reconstruction in Milwaukee. Find out more and get connected to this movement at The Milwaukee Declaration Facebook page or web-site.

A Prayer of Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman.jpg

Open unto me, light for my darkness
Open unto me, courage for my fear
Open unto me, hope for my despair
Open unto me, peace for my turmoil
Open unto me, joy for my sorrow
Open unto me, strength for my weakness
Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion
Open unto me, forgiveness for my sins
Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness
Open unto me, love for my hates
Open unto me, Thy Self for myself
Lord, Lord, open unto me!

By Howard Thurman, 20th century religious and civil right leader.