Tag Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

The American Deficit: Where Do We Go from Here?

By Marian Wright Edelman

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. Not too many years ago, Dr. Kirtley Mather, a Harvard geologist, wrote a book entitled Enough and to Spare. He set forth the basic theme that famine is wholly unnecessary in the modern world. Today, therefore, the question on the agenda must read: Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?”

Forty-five years ago this month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took a very rare sabbatical at an isolated house in Jamaica far away from telephones and the constant pressures of his life as a very public civil rights leader to write what would become his last book: Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? The excerpt above feels as though it could have been written yesterday. Professor Mather’s book arguing that mankind had achieved the ability to move beyond famine was published in 1944, but in 2012, despite nearly seventy more years of unparalleled advances both in scientific and technological capability and in global resources and wealth, hunger and want are still rampant. Back then Dr. King wrote:

“There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will… The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.'”

When Dr. King died in 1968 calling for a Poor People’s Campaign, there were 25.4 million poor Americans, including 11 million poor children. Today there are more than 46 million Americans living in poverty, including 16.4 million poor children. The question of why we still allow poverty and hunger to exist-and the answer-remain the same: The deficit in human will.

As another political season gets into full swing in the United States, a new crop of candidates are making a lot of promises about their competing visions of America. But how many TV debates are focusing on whether America is a compassionate nation? How many stump speeches are saying how shameful it is that last year more Americans relied on food stamps to eat than at any time since the program began in 1939? How many are responding to Occupy Wall Street’s outcry about the morally obscene gulf between rich and poor in our nation where the 400 highest income earners made as much as the combined tax revenues of 22 states in 2008? Which PACs are running commercials to remind Americans that we are normalizing poverty, child hunger, and homelessness, and creating historic income, wealth, and mobility gaps that threaten to destroy the American dream? If the qualification for individual and national greatness is genuine concern for the ‘least of these,’ too many of our political leaders and citizens are failing.

As our nation pauses for the national holiday celebrating Dr. King’s birthday, I hope we will not spend it just listening to speeches praising Dr. King but instead will heed and act on his words.

When will we hear what Dr. King declared in 1967-“the time has come for an all-out world war against poverty”-and work to win the first victory right here at home in the richest nation on earth? Is it possible to overcome our deficit in human will, or is the fact that we have already squandered so much time and still have so far to go a reason to give up?

Dr. King’s voice guides us if we are willing to take the next step and use it as a road map for action. In Where Do We Go from Here?, as he reflected on what direction the struggle for civil rights and social justice should take next, he shared a story about the need to commit to difficult struggles for the long haul. Dr. King described a flight he had taken from New York to London years earlier in an older propeller airplane. The trip took nine and a half hours, but on the way home, the crew announced the flight from London back to New York would take twelve and a half. When the pilot came out to visit the cabin, Dr. King asked him why. “‘You must understand about the winds,’ he said. ‘When we leave New York, a strong tail wind is in our favor, but when we return, a strong head wind is against us.’ Then he added, ‘Don’t worry. These four engines are capable of battling the winds.'”

Dr. King concluded: “In any social revolution there are times when the tail winds of triumph and fulfillment favor us, and other times when strong head winds of disappointment and setbacks beat against us relentlessly. We must not permit adverse winds to overwhelm us as we journey across life’s mighty Atlantic; we must be sustained by our engines of courage in spite of the winds. This refusal to be stopped, this ‘courage to be,’ this determination to go on ‘in spite of’ is the hallmark of any great movement.”

Today we need to rev up our engines of courage, battle against the fierce head winds of economic downturn, unemployment, poverty, and greed that threaten to undo the progress of the last fifty years, and stay true to the course Dr. King set for us. Now is the time to end child poverty and hunger in America.

[Read King’s 1967 speech titled Were Do We Go From Here?]

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

When Martin Luther King Reached the Point of No Return

By John W. Whitehead

“I have begun the struggle and I can’t turn back. I have reached the point of no return.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

The official dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial took place on Sunday, August 28th, the 48th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. If anyone deserves a national monument in his honor, it would certainly be Martin Luther King Jr., a man who inspired countless Americans, including myself, to take a stand against injustice.

King was an amazing individual: courageous, passionate about freedom, willing to tackle large-scale issues (such as materialism, militarism and the Vietnam War), and relentless in his pursuit of justice—he stood his ground, even in the face of death threats and opposition from friends and associates. A warrior and a visionary, King saw first-hand what tyranny looked like and worked tirelessly to oppose it. As King observed, “The universe is on the side of justice.”

King’s journey to the “mountaintop,” as he put it, began with a boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. City officials had done everything possible to stem the boycott of their segregated bus system by the black citizens of Montgomery. Inevitably, the city resorted to what had always worked in the past: the use of police power.

The date was January 26, 1956. It was in the afternoon, and the young minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, was on his way home with two fellow church members. The acknowledged leader of the highly controversial boycott, he was put on notice to follow the traffic laws meticulously. There was no reason to make himself an easy target for arrest. But, as fate would have it, the police targeted the young minister, and he was arrested: “Get out King; you are under arrest for speeding thirty miles an hour in a twenty-five mile zone.”

Thus began Martin Luther King Jr.’s journey toward jail. The moment of truth, however, had arrived for the young minister. Warned that he could be made to disappear by the authorities, fear began to grip King. As he writes:

As we drove off, presumably to the city jail, a feeling of panic began to come over me. I had always had the impression that the jail was in the downtown section of Montgomery. Yet after riding for a while I noticed that we were going in a different direction. The more we rode the farther we were from the center of town. In a few minutes we turned into a dark and dingy street that I had never seen and headed under a desolate old bridge. By this time I was convinced that these men were carrying me to some faraway spot to dump me off. “But this couldn’t be,” I said to myself. “These men are officers of the law.” Then I began to wonder whether they were driving me out to some waiting mob, planning to use the excuse later on that they had been overpowered. I found myself trembling within and without. Silently, I asked God to give me the strength to endure whatever came.

This was at the height of segregation in the American system. It was a time where, when blacks got out of line, at a minimum they faced jail time. Only a month earlier, Rosa Parks, a seamstress, had refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white man. This violation of the segregation law brought a swift arrest.

But King by now was the troublemaker. Cut off the head and the movement dies. This King knew. That is why he began to panic as his ride with the police continued:

By this time we were passing under the bridge. I was sure now that I was going to meet my fateful hour on the other side. But as I looked up I noticed a glaring light in the distance, and soon I saw the words “Montgomery City Jail.” I was so relieved that it was some time before I realized the irony of my position: going to jail at that moment seemed like going to some safe haven!

As the jail doors slammed shut behind King, he felt a strong inner peace: “For the moment strange gusts of emotion swept through me like cold winds on an open prairie. For the first time in my life I had been thrown behind bars.”

Soon King’s bail was posted and King was free to leave. But King’s rendezvous with jail cells was just beginning. More importantly, the movement that began in Montgomery was moving beyond state borders. A nationwide movement with a capital M was in process. This made King even more of a target.

Several weeks later, King happened to be in Nashville giving a lecture when he learned that he, with others, had been indicted by a grand jury for violating Montgomery’s segregation laws. He immediately booked a flight home, stopping over to see his father in Atlanta. Martin Luther King Sr. recognized that a new scenario had developed. The threat was no longer jail time. It was death. “My father, so unafraid for himself,” writes King, “had fallen into a constant state of terror for me and my family.”

Earlier, King’s home in Montgomery had been bombed and the police were watching his every move. After the bombing, King’s mother had taken to bed under doctor’s orders. King’s father brought some of Atlanta’s leading citizens into his home to speak with his son about the dangers of returning to Montgomery. But King knew that often courage in the face of tyranny is all that the oppressed have at their disposal. It was time, as King said, to take a stand. As he told those assembled:

My friends and associates are being arrested. It would be the height of cowardice for me to stay away. I would rather be in jail ten years than desert my people now. I have begun the struggle, and I can’t turn back. I have reached the point of no return.

Upon arrival in Montgomery, King headed for jail to discover that the others indicted with King had the day before surrendered for arrest. “A once fear-ridden people had been transformed. Those who had previously trembled before the law were now proud to be arrested for the cause of freedom.”

Against incredible odds, the blacks of Montgomery won the right to be treated equally on the city’s buses. Soon, the movement took on amazing proportions which would compel a government that refused to hear their pleas to listen and heed their demands. But not a shot was fired by the blacks of Montgomery. Led by a man who believed in nonviolent resistance to government oppression—a man who believed that governments must listen to and heed our demands, these brave people would soon transform the face of America.

Few suspected that King’s voice would be prematurely silenced, but King knew his days were numbered. He knew there was a larger force at work in his life. And that’s how he concluded his sermon—the last words he spoke in public:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And 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. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Forty-three years after King’s assassination, our nation is still plagued with wars, government surveillance and a military-industrial complex that feeds a national diet of warmongering. And King, once a charismatic leader and voice of authority, has been memorialized in death to such an extent that younger generations recognize his face but miss out on his message. Yet he still speaks volumes to us today.

“Speaking truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act,” George Orwell once said. Such was Martin Luther King. They may have killed the man, but his spirit of truth lives on. We would do well to learn from him how to speak truth to power.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about the Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.

Freedom’s God

By Daniel Downs

Last Friday, August 28, America commemorated the famous I Have a Dream speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. Throughout his pivotal protest speech, King alluded his religious faith, hope, and expectation of the freedom from oppression and the mundane challenges of realizing justice. He repeatedly referred to all people as God’s children. This expectant faith for freedom climaxed in the last three paragraphs in which King proclaimed:

… when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,

… “Free at last, free at last.

… Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

The negro spiritual directs us back to the source and beginning of social, economic, and political freedom. The God of the Bible. This God liberated the Jews from Egyptian slavery. He is the God of Jesus who was sent to set free those enslaved by addictions, poverty, immorality, despair, as well as effects of oppression. Yet, the liberated are not free from a life without God. That would to return to Egypt or to some other source of bondage.

Is that not exactly what America has done?

The struggle for freedom that Americans enjoy began long ago in halls of Western Christendom. The legal and theological struggle for justice resulted in a long history of natural law rights that included life, liberty, property, and happiness. They were not vague principles as some seem to believe. Legal battles, social conflicts, and wars were fought against those authorities intending to deprive the descents of Anglo-Saxons and others of their inherent and inherited rights. America is an inheritor and promulgator of that long fought heritage of rights law that was firmly rooted and legitimated by biblical principles and right reason, none of which was outside the social or political geography of Christianity.

That is why the Continental Congress established the United States of America by a two-fold covenant: a covenant with God and a social compact with all citizens. That also is why America was established by a two-fold legal compact: a document defining the nation under natural law, the Declaration of Independence, and a document defining the type of government to fulfill the objectives of the national definition including the protection of those rights and perpetuate the right so defined, the Constitution.

King’s promissory note analogy of rights based on the equality of human nature is part of America’s national definition. Thomas Jefferson knew America was already in trouble with God because Negro slavery was made an exception to that equality and the enjoyment of those rights. It was made an exception by removing the clause from the national definition that would have ended slavery forever. Jefferson apprehension of divine judgment for this came to pass. Both the Civil War and the violence during the Civil Rights movement were proof. War, natural disasters, and similar tragedy represented to divine judgment to nearly all early Americans. That was the consensus view of the citizenry and leaders of Christian America until at least the beginning of the twentieth century.

The language of Abraham Lincoln’s speech the Emancipation Proclamation parallels the Declaration of Independence invoking God’s favor for an act of justice rooted in the Constitution. However, that justice was defined in the Declaration not the U.S. Constitution. The 13th Amendment did not become law until 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation was given on January 1, 1863. The language of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment (1868) references the Declaration as well.

Freedom’s God is nature’s God. Nature’s God is humanity’s God who created them. God created humans with an equality of worth and dignity because human nature is a reflection of himself. God created them in his image and capable of his likeness. Natural rights are constituted in socialibility of human nature. Jefferson saw them as gifts of God. They are the goods of the promise land that had to be fought for and must be maintained by a strong defense.

Unfortunately, it seems that that defense has been weakening because the Supreme Judge of the world has been ignored. Maybe God had been ignored for such a long time because America’s intentions has not been rectifiable before the divine bar of justice and truth. Consequently, the Protection of divine Providence cannot be expected. In fact, America officially seems to disregard divine Providence even after disasters like 9/11, Katrina, the great economic recessions, and the like.

Nevertheless, freedom has always been and will always be a divine gift based on moral law and human conformity to it. Without God, freedom progresses to various forms of slavery.