Monday, April 03, 2006

Dark enough to see the stars

38 years ago tonight, Martin Luther King gave the last speech of his life, and it was a great one. Reading it tonight, after my second viewing of V for Vendetta, it rang even more true. What's becoming clear to me is that the great hope of mankind is collective action. King understood that, more than most people. The 500,000 Latino immigrants marching on City Hall in Los Angeles understood that. The writers of V for Vendetta understand that. The French understand that.

But most Americans don't march. We're all busy pulling in different directions, trying to feed our families, trying to get ahead in our careers, trying to just survive without going insane in a world that makes less and less sense.

But reading Martin Luther King's words again tonight, I was inspired. The lesson is clear. We must either stand together or fall separately. King said it far more eloquently:
if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" — I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.

But I wouldn't stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I'm named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.

But I wouldn't stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

But I wouldn't stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be in Memphis.

...Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we've got to stay together. We've got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
This was King's famous "I've been to the mountaintop" speech, in which he talked of rumors of plots against him. One of those plots would succeed in taking his life the next day, on April 4, 1968. And reading the speech again, it's as if he knew. But he didn't stay home. He didn't live in fear. He didn't stick his head in the sand and say hey, not my problem. He talked about the need to stop asking "what will happen to me" and start asking "what will happen to others if I don't do what needs to be done."

King is dead, but not his ideas. Not his dream. He had a dream he shared with all of us, a dream for a better world, where people treated each other with the respect and dignity that every being deserves. He dreamt of a world at peace, in prosperity, where children did not have to sniff glue to sleep through their hunger. He had a dream that should never die. He had a dream that should no longer be a dream, but a reality. We have the power, but not yet the will.

King had the grace to see that even in the darkest times, there was something positive. You could see the stars.

When Pandora opened her box and let the evils out into the world, she closed it in time to save the last thing in the box: Hope. King harnessed the power of hope and changed years of oppression nearly overnight. We can too. If all of us who felt the war in Iraq was wrong took to the streets together, we could end this madness.

Love. Peace. Hope. In all the world, these are the only things worth having, the only things that ever really matter. Take those into the darkness with you tonight. Watch them glitter.


Blogger Real History Lisa said...

P.S. Don't miss this excellent article, based on a quote from a speech Martin Luther King made a year to the day before he was killed. "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

11:44 PM  
Blogger AliWehrlie said...

God bless you for posting Dr. King's last message.
I was a senior in high school and working several hours a week for RFK's CA's June primary. Being a white girl in a very white town, I hadn't heard alot about Dr. King. When he was martyred, I worked all the harder for Bobby because I knew they were friends and commrades, and from what I knew of Dr. King, his dream was also Bobby's dream.
Where have all the flowers gone?

12:31 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Thank you for that. And I'd love to talk to you about Bobby's campaign - seriously. I am working on a book about Bobby and would love to ask you some questions. Please email me at lpease at

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't discount the fact that the Mexican media was non stop calling for action. Radio, TV, and print. The 2003 Million man antiwar match had the same numbers yet there was NO coverage. Once again, follow the money. Who funded all this promotion? Who funded all the 600+ billboards all over L.A. that called Los Angeles Mexico last year? I believe we are being manipulated. Listen to the Gary Bell radio show from last Saturday. He explains it well. Race wars and religious wars. It's the ultimate red herring. I too have lived in L.A. most of my whole life and love everything Mexican. In fact I am still obssessed and secretly want to marry a mexican or chicano woman. I just think that there is a multi faceted effort to dumb down and pacify the anglo public. Anglo organizations and NGO's don't work because it has been standard procedure to infiltrate with cointel. Look at ANSWER for example. Just my .02. They will never let another MLK rise and organize unless he's a gatekeeper a la Chomsky.

10:47 PM  

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