Friday, April 04, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.

40 years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr was killed in Memphis, Tennessee. It was 1968 and I was a seventeen year old high school kid. It was the second of three prominent murders I would experience in the Sixties. The first was President John F Kennedy and the third was his brother, Robert F Kennedy. The Sixties were a time of great hope and great change but also a time of great violence. It was an exciting and scary time to live. The Civil Rights movement was happening and the Vietnam war was on the news every night much like today's war in Iraq. As a teenage white kid living in the suburbs it's not likely that I really appreciated at the time what Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for. I was too busy being a teenager. Over the years as I learned more about Martin Luther King, Jr and one of his chief influences, Mahatma Gandhi, I realized what a great man he was and I began to under the message of non violence. Many of my personal heroes and role models are men of peace. Martin Luther King, Jr is high on my list. Two other men who died in the Sixties that are also high on my list are Pope John XXIII who wrote the famous encyclical entitled "Peace on Earth" and the monk, Thomas Merton, who wrote much about race relations and peace in addition to works on spirituality. I have mentioned Thomas Merton many times in my daily thoughts. He was a monk of Gethsemani, the monastery that I often visit. Our modern world has been lacking in such charismatic leaders as these men. The few that come to mind are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walensa and the Dalai Lama. I want to believe that some of Martin's dream has come true but the world is still in a sorry state. There is much hatred and war and intolerance. It is easy to think we are going backwards instead of forward. We need more men...and women...of every race and color with the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. When he gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 I was little more than a child but I have heard it many times since then and believe it's one of the great speeches of all time. Once, on a visit to Washington, D.C. I stood where he stood when he gave this speech. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine that day and all the feelings his words must have caused as his audience will filled with hope. We need to keep this hope alive. We all need to work for peace and tolerance and acceptance for all. We all need to have Martin's dream.

"I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man".
-Martin Luther King, Jr April 3rd, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. He was only 39 years old

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