Today marks Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States. It’s a day to remind us of how far we’ve come, even in the 40 years since Dr. King’s murder … and how far (so far) we still have to go in our pursuit of equality for every person, regardless of skin color or ethnicity. The day simultaneously reminds us of King’s searing message for his context—and how that message has lost none of its power in our context.
Whatever your position or politics, there’s something remarkable in the picture of our nation’s first black President taking the oath of office on the very steps where Martin Luther King, Jr. issued his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. King’s dream isn’t realized completely—there are still institutionalized injustices and struggles for minorities all over the country (and all over the world). But it seems like at least a little bit of his dream was realized on inauguration day. Not because of Obama’s policies or positions, but because a nation who once disregarded the very human-ness of African-Americans has now, thanks in no small part to Dr. King, elected an African-American to be their leader.
Similarly, we’re reminded of Dr. King’s radical call to non-violence, even in the face of crushing oppression. It’s hard to overstate how effective Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence was. Because he lived in a constant state of “turning the other cheek,” it made the people striking his cheeks look like the ones out of step with the Gospel. It reminds all of us that sometimes the most effective way to fight back is to not fight back at all. And it took Christ’s message of peace in a world of violence and ripped apart the very chains of a society that did everything to stop Dr. King.
So today, we remember Dr. King and the lessons he left for us. We don’t gloss over his indiscretions, or his failures as a man—to do so would be to dishonor his memory, just as to tell the story of King David without telling of his pitfalls would be to deny part of God’s redemptive story. Instead, we honor Dr. King, and praise God for how He can use even fallen people to bring about His glory. For in the end, Martin Luther King, Jr. brought about glory to God by making a nation (and a world) think differently about the people they were “supposed” to hate.
Here are three of Dr. King’s most famous speeches. Watch them, remember and consider how his calls to radical love, nonviolence and civil rights still ring true today.