Since I am out of town this week I am going to post a short article tonight. Today was the fifty-third anniversary of one of the greatest speeches in American history. It was on this day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The speech was powerful, eloquent, and even today when one listnes to Dr. King’s marvelous oratory the effect is electrifying. I was on three years old and living in the Philippines when he spoke them and so it was not until years later that I heard it for the first time. Every time I watch the films of Dr. King speaking those words I am forced to recall not just his eloquence, but the depth of what he said, and how much is still true today. While I think I am a pretty good writer I would only hope to half as gifted as a speaker as Dr. King.
I did get to speak yesterday at the Morehead Pride Festival and afterwards I was thinking about Dr. King’s message for all people. I do have that dream for all who are oppressed. I was talking to a lot of people before and after and so many told me how many of how they had been ostracized by the church for being Gay but still longed for that sense of spiritual support and acceptance. I began thinking what it would be like if most churches would simply accept people and love them. But many churches and Christians, especially the more conservative types of churches who are so willing to accept people and even bless people like Donald Trump as “God’s choice” for the highest office in the land, treat LGBTQ people as worse than the devil. Why? Because they are gay and according to their interpretation of the Bible that seems to be the only sin God cannot forgive. Less than fifty years ago many people in this country felt the same way about African Americans. But I digress…
But the fact is that for many people, especially African Americans, other people of color, poor whites, women, religious minorities, as well as LGBTQ people, the promise of this nation is not yet fully realized. Dr. King equated the words of the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note, meant for all people that had been defaulted on by our nation, and how could he not?
As a historian I know the words of the preamble of the Declaration, as well as the Gettysburg Address are for all purposes are the cornerstone of American Secular Scripture. They define what we can and should be. And yesterday while I was speaking I again realized just how much promise those words have: they are what make us Americans and if we fail to remember them, if we fail to work to ensure that they are the basis of who we are as a people both in word and deed, then we too will default on that promissory note, and the treasury of freedom and justice will be bankrupt; and we have none to blame but ourselves.
But I have a dream, as Dr. King so eloquently put it “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Far too many people have shed their blood for that sacred proposition for us to abandon it: soldiers, civil rights leaders, men and women, black and white, straight and gay, of every religion and race that have ever longed for the realization of that proposition. Dr. King was one of them, as was Harvey Milk, they and so many others cut down by assassin’s bullets, or murdered, or lynched. So with them in mind we must take heed of the words of Abraham Lincoln, another martyr in the cause of freedom, who reminded those present at the dedication of the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg, “that is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us here to be dedication to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
So until tomorrow.