Friday, April 30, 2010


Surely those who are reluctant to do what is asked of them should be the more admired. Surely those who are afraid, who question themselves, who doubt their own abilities, but who, under pressure, rise to the moment, are our true paragons. Surely the man facing a mass of restless people, who puts aside his prepared speech to say those hauntingly beautiful words — "I have a dream..." — surely this man becomes the Zeitgeist.

"I say to you today, my friends: so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream... I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave -owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhoodVI have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

"I have a dream...™

With that speech Martin Luther King, Jr. realized the hopes of two hundred and fifty thousand people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was the largest civil rights demonstration ever held in the United States, and after a hot summer's afternoon of political speeches the crowd was listlessly beginning to fray on the edges. But when that soaring, powerful voice began those rhythmic and cadenced sentences, people became rooted, silent. And when he had finished and stood there beaded in sweat and took a step back from the microphones, for a moment, a brief moment, there was a stunned acknowledgment of what King had said. Then a roar of acceptance rose from tens of thousands of throats in tribute to the man who had articulated their lives. Across the country, millions more watched a live television broadcast: the moral force of black America's demands for equality was undeniable.

At the end of that year, 1963, this man, Martin Luther King, Jr., would be proclaimed Time magazine's Man of the Year. The following year, he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, at thirty-five, the youngest peace prize-winner ever, and only the third black man to receive the honor. In the eyes of his followers and those whose suffering he portrayed, he had become an icon, but it was not a status King sought. Rather it had been thrust on him and, in a sense, forced him to confront his destiny: the threats, the arrests, the harassment, and, eventually, the assassination. In public he was a man of the people, in private he was a reluctant hero. But he was well aware of his own qualities, and because of this empathized with people, both those he led and those whose fears he challenged.

"We often develop inferiority complexes and we stumble through life with a feeling of insecurity, a lack of self-confidence, and a sense of impending failure," he told his congregation one Sunday in 1967, a year before he was killed. "A fear of what life may bring encourages some persons to wander aimlessly along the frittering road of excessive drink and sexual promiscuity. I know this. I know it from my own personal experiences."

This was King in an hour of truthfulness when he needed to reach out to ordinary people in the hopes of arousing their understanding that while he might be the man at the head of the protest marches, the man calling for freedom in the face of police violence, the man incarcerated, he was, too, as vulnerable as were they. And yet, when the hour came, King was quick to put aside his anxieties and face any hardship no matter how frightening. Then, undaunted, he would act on their behalf. In that selfless courage lay his capacity to inspire.

excerpt from Introduction to "Dream: The Words and Inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr." by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

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