ERROL CASTENS: Dr. King’s legacy: The gift that goads in different ways

Had he still been alive, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 81 today. Among other strengths, he had gift to recognize enough societal weaknesses that none of us is left unmarked by his corrections.
To mark this anniversary, let us remind ourselves of a few of the choice sayings that made him worthy of honor.
– “I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by content of their character. I have a dream today!” (speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Aug. 28, 1963)
– “Deeply rooted in our political and religious heritage is the conviction that every man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth. Our Hebraic-Christian tradition refers to this inherent dignity of man in the Biblical term ‘the image of God’.” (speech in Nashville, 27 Dec. 27, 1962)
– “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.” (Letter from Birmingham City Jail, April 16, 1963)
– “Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. Even if it does not fall in the category of one of the so-called big professions, do it well. … If it falls your lot to sweep streets, sweep streets as Michelangelo painted pictures, as Shakespeare wrote poetry, as Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and Earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper, who did his job well.’” (speech in Montgomery, Ala., December 1956)
– “Dives (rich man in Jesus’ parable of Lazarus) went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.” (sermon at the National Cathedral, March 30, 1968)
– “A positive religious faith does not offer an illusion that we shall be exempt from pain and suffering, nor does it imbue us with the idea that life is a drama of unalloyed comfort and untroubled ease. Rather, it instills us with the inner equilibrium needed to face strains, burdens and fears that inevitably come, and assures us that the universe is trustworthy and that God is concerned.” (from an undated sermon)
– “(T)he first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him’?” (his last speech, delivered in Memphis, April 3, 1968)

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