I've been thinking all weekend about what to write for this Martin Luther King Day.
Saturday, I thought about writing of 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, whose words inspired King when he famously (and succinctly) said "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" while addressing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in August 1967. Parker's original words: "Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long."
Earlier today, I heard a NPR piece on the death just yesterday of Dora McDonald, who was King's personal assistant. McDonald was the person who handled King's finances, correspondence, and travel arrangements - and she was the one who broke the news to Coretta Scott King that her husband had been slain on April 4, 1968. How fitting for her passing to come just two days before the holiday commemorating King's work, so some of the spotlight on his life can be cast on hers, too.
Now, I've just listened to a speech by John Edwards, given today at Riverside Church in New York City as part of its "Realizing the Dream" Sunday. In April 1967, King gave a landmark speech at Riverside in which he said it was time to speak out against escalating the war in Vietnam. Forty years later, Edwards echoed King's call to action and his methods, too. The civil rights leader did not address the government in his speech, Edwards noted, but called to the American people to break their silence and lead a revolution of values. "The force of that revolution is that we cannot stand by and hope that someone else will right the wrongs of the world," Edwards said.
Click here to hear or watch Edwards' excellent speech, and here to read Dr. King's April 1967 address. Then - if you haven't already - email our legislators (Craig, Crapo, and Simpson; Sali still has no email link available, but he's well nigh hopeless) and insist that Congress refuse to fund an escalation of the American presence in Iraq.
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence," April 7, 1967