Forty years ago today, our nation lost one if its greatest servants.
In our contemporary collective consciousness, we recognize the death of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a great tragedy. Our greater affliction, however, is our inability to realize the magnitude of his legacy.
We all know that Dr. King had a dream. We all know that he had a vision that children would one day be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Few know that King’s vision transcended national borders.
King did not just dream that Americans would live in racial equality or in the absence of racial inequality, but he believed that the manifestation of this dream required international spiritual understanding. He spoke of globalization’s impact on his vision in 1956, in an address in Montgomery, Ala.
“Through our scientific genius we have made of this world a neighborhood, now through our spiritual sense, we must make of it a brotherhood,” King said. “In a real sense, we must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.”
Sixteen years before the sales of color televisions outnumbered their black-and-white counterparts, King warned the nation about its inability to recognize the significance of technological innovation on global understanding. He argued that our increased interconnectedness gave us boundless opportunity to explore our world and ourselves, but also plenty of chances to fail. Unfortunately, despite his forewarning, many of us who have failed to heed King’s warning.
We have a national political leader who came to campus just last night and told us why we should wage a war against radical Islamists. When our leaders advocate such radical, hateful positions, then the spirit of our nation is in peril.
A war is needed, but not against radical Islamists. The groups that have threatened America’s security and peacefulness are terrorists. They would be terrorists if they were Muslims, Christians or Jews, or if they were from Europe, Australia or Africa. Associating these fringe groups with the religious beliefs of a largely peaceful people is shameful and counterproductive. By associating terrorists with all Islamic people, these irresponsible leaders terrorize the American people by falsely making them fear their brothers and sisters, fellow citizens in a global society. That ought to be a crime. We should endeavor to make the world a peaceful place by attacking these fringe groups for what they are and analyzing ourselves as we do.
In the spirit of Dr. King, we ought to engage in a war against ignorance and hatefulness, but our first battlefront should be at home. The truth is that we live in a global society whose lines of communication are often impeded by hate and distrust, ignorance and misunderstanding.
Our task is not without risk. If we succeed in enhancing global understanding, then we allow this great experiment in democracy to continue for a little while longer. If we fail, we may have extinguished the world’s last great light of hope and opportunity. In the words of Dr. King, “The American dream will not become a reality devoid of the larger dream of brotherhood and peace and good will.”
Forty years ago, we lost a transcendent visionary, but fortunately, we still have the ability to dream his dream.
The only problem is that too many of us are still asleep.
Forty years from now, on that morning when we awaken with King’s words at our backs, and with his spirit in our hearts, perhaps we will have created the society of which he conceived, and of which we all dreamed.
On the anniversary of King’s death, we remember that America’s destiny is in our hands.
Michael Jones is a freshman in Saybrook College.