The “I have a dream” speech is probably the best known of Martin Luther King’s speeches, but the “I have a dream” part wasn’t in his original text. That was a litany he had used many times before in other settings. In some ways that refrain, “I have a dream,” has been turned into a feedback loop that now drowns out the rest of Dr. Kings prophetic critique of America’s militarism, racism and capitalism.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the March on Washington, it is time for America to honor Dr. King the prophet, and not MLK the cultural icon. White America has re-written the story of the Civil Rights struggle to make ourselves the heroes. White America has forgotten that President John Kennedy opposed the March on Washington. Like most white Americans, Kennedy felt Dr. King was rushing things.
If Dr. King had listened to white liberals we might still be waiting for basic civil right legislation to pass. Civil rights were not granted by kindly white leaders, they were bought with the blood, sweat and tears of countless and nameless grassroots activists.
Martin Luther King was an American prophet. We do not truly honor prophets by building statues or naming buildings after them. We honor prophets by fulfilling their vision. So if we wish to truly honor Martin Luther King at this time, we must work to end the exported violence of imperial wars, and pledge our lives to oppose the domestic violence of poverty, racism, economic inequity and unjust imprisonment.