Today marks the 45th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of history’s greatest champions for peace and justice. Dr. King died working to bring about his vision of a just and peaceful world. Killed in Memphis TN by an assassin’s bullet, King was in the city to support striking Black sanitation workers who received considerably less pay than their White counterparts.
A year earlier to the day, Dr. King delivered his Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence speech at Riverside Church in New York City. Widely known in peace circles, but seldom mentioned elsewhere, he laid out clear moral and pragmatic reasons why he was against the war in Vietnam. He called on our nation to have a “radical revolution of values,” to “shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.” He called on us to confront the evils of hate including racism and bigotry in all its forms, materialism and poverty, and militarism or war.
This was not King’s first time speaking out against the triple evils of hate, poverty and war. In his December 11, 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, The Quest for Peace and Justice, King explained his thinking on these plagues of humanity. He called war obsolete, because the awesome power of modern weapons, resulting in the killing of so many innocent people, eliminates the possibility that war can play a positive role in solving conflicts. He explained that, “We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.” He advised us to not simply be against war, but, “on the positive affirmation of peace.”
In this 45th year after his death and the 50th year after his most famous I Have A Dream Speech, let us examine King’s full legacy and measure the nation’s progress based on his vision of a just and peaceful world. Certainly we have fallen short. Today hate and poverty are on the rise and the U.S. continues to be the greatest purveyor of violence in the world with gun violence here at home, and as the globe’s number one exporter of weapons, as well as waging the now twelve yearlong global war on terror. Let us not pretend that electing people of color to political office and seeing a few of their faces on television, in movies and in corporate America means that the revolution of values is complete. Let us remember King by challenging ourselves and the nation to dream King’s dream and then struggle to make King’s dream of the Beloved Community a reality. A community where everyone; Black, White, Red, Yellow or Brown feels safe, has an opportunity to prosper and a chance at happiness.