It wasn't his charisma Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wanted us to remember. It wasn't his courage. It wasn't even his character. These were not the messages Dr. King wanted the Civil Rights movement to leave with our country.
"Nineteen sixty-three," he said during that famous speech fifty years ago, "is not an end, but a beginning." One-hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, America still suffered serious inequities. The March on Washington wasn't a final destination. It was, as he said in his speech, a way "to dramatize a shameful condition."
This condition was what moved Dr. King in his call to Americans to overcome ongoing inequities, by carrying forth our shared hopes for justice and equality for all--until they came true. He knew better than most that this would mean many more crosses would emerge. King knew that he, alone, couldn't possibly remove them all.
Martin was a just a man with powerful gifts, who good people recognized and put him in the right places to share. He was a reluctant leader "obsessed by feelings of inadequacy," in his words. His gifts alone didn't make the movement, not by far. He, above all, would remind us of that today.
All Dr. King did was accept his unique abilities and apply them to a shared cause far larger than he or any other one person. He reminded us that the crosses would keep coming, from many places--including ourselves. No matter how reasonable our public hopes, how lofty anyone's personal dreams. To achieve them, King told us, we'd ALL have to help carry our part of the load. It wouldn't be easy.
The March was "to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism," he said then, which rings true today. As does this: "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy," does it not? He knew there would be more battles.
"Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force," He warned. By fighting 'right' we might prevail and achieve the promise we all want our Country to keep. "Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow."
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
Do you think Dr. King wonders if we fully got that part? It was what he wanted us to get most. His dream, he knew, was ours. Though we often forget how, regardless who we are or where we come from, our dreams are deeply intertwined with the dreams of all--not just our fathers' or our beloved brothers from sometime before. But those we rub elbows and egos with--for better or worse, everyday. The ones with whom we share this culture that we create and sustain. And, with it the crosses that remain.
As he reminded us, then, we should remember now. We're all to rise up, knowing we "have come to realize that (our) destiny is tied up with (each other's) destiny. (and that our) freedom is inextricably bound to (each other's) freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."
We're not there yet. The crosses are still many. They won't be removed by Dr. King's memory, or anyone elses. Not until we all carry our share, knowing that to carry ones' destiny with dignity is what true Kings do--both the human and the holy.
That regardless our name, we are meant to be like Kings, too. Regardless our reluctance, Dr. King understood we all are meant and needed, to be leaders, too. To together "transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."
What crosses will we pick up to carry on the march to justice? What bells will ring for us? Not because our individual efforts have alone been so mountainous, but because we who co-construct so many of the mountains we face, only together can conquer them. Only together.
In Dr. King's words:
"And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be," as Dr. King concluded in his 'I Have a Dream Speech:' "Free at last."