FREE AT LAST?
I wonder what Martin Luther King, Jr., would think of the America we live in — how he’d feel had he and his assassin not met on that fateful April morning and if instead he had awakened this morning to his 78th birthday.
I wonder how he’d characterize a country that imprisons more of its own people than any other nation on earth.
I wander what he’d call a country that incarcerates one in four of
its young black males.
I wonder if he could tolerate a country that differentiates between
“white people’s cocaine” and “black people’s cocaine” in its sentencing laws.
I wonder if Dr. King would have the moral strength to stick to his philosophy of non-violence in this era of militarized police, “no-
knock” raids, death sentences for self-defense, and the cold-blooded murder of elderly black women by their alleged protectors.
I wonder if Dr. King would even recognize the America we live in today.
I don’t think he would. I think he’d still be leading marches and working for justice — demanding that America make good on what he called the “architects of our republic['s] … promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. … a promise that all men
would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Dr. King is not often described as a “libertarian” when his work for racial equality is remembered — and maybe there are other, better words to describe his ideas. Certainly the movemement he led for so many years has sometimes struck out in directions he’d likely not
have supported. But, just as clearly, he understood the importance of freedom. On this, his birthday, I like to take a few minutes to remember the closing words of his famous 1963 speech in Washington:
“When we let freedom 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!'”
I hope that you’ll spend a few moments pondering those words with me — and the coming years working with me to renew them and to make them real.