Jan 20, 2020
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day –
I want to bring a some of the brilliance that this man of God displayed in one of his speeches. This speech occurred after President Kennedy was assassinated.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant man.
I myself have a minor in philosophy from Delaware State University, “Go Hornets!”
So, when I was reading this speech it really highlighted to me how brilliant MLK Jr. was. He was not just the figure head of a movement.
There was some deep thinking that was involved in producing arguments for desegregation of this country.
This speech was given on February 5, 1964 at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. It was titled, “The American Dream”
“I would like to use as a subject from which to speak tonight, the American Dream. And I use this subject because America is essentially a dream, a dream yet unfulfilled. The substance of the dream is expressed in some very familiar words found in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a dream.”
I love how MLK knew the words of the Declaration of Independence. He was an active participant in the processes of the nation.
“Several months ago, a great, intelligent, vigorous young man stood before the nation and he said, “The issue of Civil Rights is not merely a political issue, it is not merely an economic issue; it is at bottom a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and as modern as the Constitution. It is a question of whether you will treat your neighbors as you would like to be treated.” And on the heels of that great speech, he presented to the Congress of our nation, this comprehensive package of Civil Rights legislation, the most comprehensive and the strongest Civil Rights bill ever presented by any President. Since that time, a dark moment has come to our nation - - that young man has been assassinated. Now he belongs to the ages. But it is tragic indeed that the question of Civil Rights is still being debated. And it will be debated in the Senate to the point of a filibuster probably. This is tragic indeed, for I am convinced that one of the greatest tributes that a nation can pay to the late President Kennedy is to see that this bill, that he recommended to the Congress, will pass and pass without being watered down at any point. Also...(applause)...and I would also like to say that there is need for legislation not only on the Federal level but also on the local level or within cities and states."
”If the American Dream is to be a reality, secondly we must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. This idea still lingers around in some situations and in some circles. Certainly the intellectual disciplines, the anthropological sciences, have made it very clear that there is no truth in this. Great anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, the late Melvin Herskovitz and others have made it clear that as a result of their long years of study in these various areas, there is no truth in the idea of superior and inferior races. There may be superior and inferior individuals academically within all races. But there are no superior and inferior races. But in spite of this, the notion still lingers around. There was a time when people tried to justify this or tried to give some validity to this argument by turning to the Bible. And there again, it is a strange thing to see how individuals will use or misuse the Bible and religion to justify their prejudices and crystallize the status quo. And so from some pulpits around the nation it was argued that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. The apostle Paul’s dictum became a watchword, “Servants, be obedient to your master.” Then one other brother had probably read the logic of the great philosopher Aristotle, and you know Aristotle did a great deal to bring into being what we now know in philosophy as formal logic. And in formal logic you have the syllogism with its major premise and minor premise and conclusion. And this brother decided to put his argument of the inferiority of the Negro in the framework of an Aristotelian syllogism. He could say as his major premise, all men are made in the image of God. Then came the minor premise: God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro. Therefore, the Negro is not a man. This was the type of reasoning that prevailed."
"Now on the whole I think people have gotten away from that; not altogether though because I heard the other day where someone in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizen’s Council...(laughter)...But on the whole we’ve moved away from these arguments. Now it’s done on subtle sociological grounds. “The Negro is not culturally ready for integration, and if you integrate schools and public facilities, you will pull the white race back a generation.” And then other arguments come out. You see, the Negro is a criminal. And these arguments go on ad infinitum. And the individuals who come forth with these arguments never go on to say that if there are lagging standards in the Negro community, they lag because of segregation and discrimination. And criminal responses are not racial, they are environmental. Poverty, ignorance, social isolation, economic deprivation breed crime whatever the racial group may be. And it is a tortuous logic for you to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. It is necessary to get to the causal basis.”
“One of the great debates of history has been over this whole question of ends and means. There have been those individuals who have argued that the end justifies the means. Sometimes the whole systems of government have gone down this path. I think this is one of the great weaknesses and tragedies of Communism; it is right here, that often the attitude that any method, any means can be used to bring about the goal of the classless society. This is where the nonviolent philosophy would break from Communism or any other system that argues that the end justifies the means, because in a real sense the end is pre-existent in the means. And the means represent the ideal in the making and the end in process. And somehow in the long run of history, immoral means cannot bring about moral ends. And so the nonviolent philosophy makes it possible for individuals to work to secure moral ends through moral means."
"Now, there is another thing about this philosophy -- I guess it’s one of the most misunderstood aspects. It says that it is possible to struggle passionately and unrelentingly against an unjust system and yet not stoop to hatred in the process. The love ethic can stand at the center of a nonviolent movement. And people always ask me, “What in the world do you mean by this? How can you love people who are bombing your home, and people who are threatening your children, and people who are using violence against your every move?” I guess they have a point. I’m not talking about emotional bosh at this point. It is nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their oppressor in an affectionate sense. This isn’t what we are talking about."
"Fortunately the Greek language comes to our aid in trying to discover the meaning of love in this context. There are three words in the Greek language for love. One is the word “eros.” Eros is a sort of aesthetic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, a yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love, and so in this sense we have all read about eros in the beauties of literature. In a sense Edgar Allen Poe was talking about eros when he talked about his beautiful Annabelle Lee with a love surrounded by the halo of eternity. In a sense Shakespeare was talking about eros when he said, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove. It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempest and is never shaken. It is a star to every wandering barque.” You know, I can remember that because I used to quote it to my wife when we were courting. That’s eros...(laughter)...Then there is “philia.” The Greek language talks about this kind of reciprocal love, a sort of...a love that develops out of the fact that you, you like the person. You love because you are loved. This is friendship."
"There is another word in the Greek language. It is the word “agape.” Agape is more than friendship, agape is more than aesthetic or romantic love. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men. It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And when one rises to love on this level, he loves every man, not because he likes him but because God loveshim. And he rises to the level of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does."
"And I think that this is the kind of love that can guide us through the days and weeks and years ahead. This is the kind of love that can help us achieve and create the beloved community. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies,” and I’m so happy he didn’t say, “Like your enemies,” it’s pretty difficult to like some people. Like is an affection. It has sentimental qualities and, frankly, it is difficult to like, I find it very difficult to like Senator Thurmond and Senator Eastland and the things that they are doing on this Civil Rights issue and the way they are voting, I really don’t like it. But Jesus says, “Love them” and love is greater than like. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men. And I seriously say that I think this can stand at the center of the nonviolent movement and help bring about the new America, the great America."
Speech transcript source: https://depts.drew.edu/lib/archives/online_exhibits/King/speech/TheAmericanDream.pdf