Unfulfilled Dreams -- the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King

I am reprinting this reflection I wrote for Martin Luther King day in 2008 -- two years back.  As we prepare for another observance, and as we keep in mind the people of Haiti, a nation of people who are descendants of enslaved people, may the words of Dr. King continue to push us to a better and more just world.


It is Martin Luther King Day. I’m sitting at the computer, while my 17 year old son is participating in a rally. I could be there too – probably should be – but I’m letting the written word speak instead.

I went web surfing this morning, looking for something from Dr. King’s own words that I could share with you. I found a site that posted some of his sermons and found one entitled “Unfulfilled Dreams.” Now, we know his great speech of 1963, delivered on the Mall in Washington. It is a brilliant and powerful statement that carries the name – “I Have a Dream.” I quoted it and posted it on his birthday. In some ways, this sermon is the next chapter.

It’s a sermon he preached on March 3, 1968. That would have been my 10th birthday. At that point in my life, I don’t think I knew much about Dr. King. I didn’t know that in a few weeks after this sermon was delivered he would lie dead, taken down by an assassin’s bullet. No, most assuredly my mind was elsewhere that day in 1968, but it would appear that Dr. King had a sense then that he wouldn’t live to see his dream fulfilled. Like David and his Temple or Gandhi and his dream of a free and united India, he had the sense that the dream would have to be carried on by others.

So many of our forebearers used to sing about freedom. And they dreamed of the day that they would be able to get out of the bosom of slavery, the long night of injustice. (Yes, sir) And they used to sing little songs: “Nobody knows de trouble I seen, nobody knows but Jesus.” (Yes) They thought about a better day as they dreamed their dream. And they would say, “I’m so glad the trouble don’t last always. (Yeah) By and by, by and by I’m going to lay down my heavy load.” (Yes, sir) And they used to sing it because of a powerful dream. (Yes) But so many died without having the dream fulfilled.

And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. (Glory to God) And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.

Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: “It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. (Yes) It’s well that you are trying.” (Yes it is) You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. (Yes) It’s well that it’s in thine heart.

Yes, the point is that the dream live on and that we seek to bring it into existence. I was a ten year old boy, living in Klamath Falls, Oregon, far from the Civil Rights battles raging in other places of the country – Los Angeles, Atlanta, Memphis. I was oblivious, but in time my mind and my heart was awakened, and I, a middle class, well-educated, white man, have been enlightened, but the dream remains unfulfilled, needing to be picked up by the next generation. I don’t know that my son full understands the issues, but as a senior in high school, he chose to take Black Studies. That’s an interesting choice, but a harbinger of something new and powerful happening.

I don’t know if Barack Obama will win the nomination or become President, but the fact that he can run as a viable candidate and gain not just black votes but white votes is testament to the power of a dream. That there are still significant pockets of the country that won’t vote for him because he’s black tells us that Dr. King’s dream remains as yet unfulfilled.

But the key is not that we’ve reached perfection, but that we’re right road. In this same sermon, Dr. King speaks of salvation in just this fashion.

And this brings me to the basic point of the text. In the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows (Yes) that his children are weak and they are frail. (Yes, he does) In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right. (Amen, Yes) Salvation isn’t reaching the destination of absolute morality, but it’s being in the process and on the right road. (Yes)

We’ve not reached the Promised Land, but we’re on the road. There’s a long way to go, but we’re making progress. And the point isn’t that we’ve reached the end, but that we’ve chosen/been chosen the right road.

May we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King today, by attending to the path he pioneered five decades ago.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the link. I recall coming home, flipping through radio stations and finding this, then listening, as a teenager, sitting in my dad's car in the driveway. David Mc

23 June 1963
Speech at the Great March on Detroit

"...And with this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair. With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. With this faith, we will be able to achieve this new 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 with the Negroes in the spiritual of old:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God almighty, we are free at last! [Applause]

Anonymous said…
They were recorded speeches of course. I remember being transfixed.

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