Tribute: Dr. Martin Luther King

In 1991 on Martin Luther King Day, I was honored with the privilege to give a tribute to Dr. King. Following a parade, in which I participated, this tribute was delivered at the AME Church in Malvern, Arkansas. It is one of the few times I have felt a special time and place in humanity. I want to share that tribute with you.

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A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King

When Reverends Lea and McCollom asked me to deliver today’s tribute to Doctor Martin Luther King, I was at first honored at being asked to pay tribute to this great American. When I sat down with pen in hand to write, my feelings were mixed with awe, sorrow, jubilation and a deep sense of humbleness. How does one pay tribute to a man who by the force of his presence and wisdom, by the sheer weight of his commitment and leadership has changed the course of history for all the peoples of the world? A man who stood up to the forces of evil ignorance and intolerance motivating as many as 250,000 persons to gather at our nations capitol in the cause of freedom?

Martin Luther King, speaking his name does not cause my hands to shake with anger nor my heart to burn with the fever of social activism. That would not befit Doctor King. He was a gentle man of non violence and he often expressed that in his speeches as he did when he spoke to the Gandhi society for Human Rights. He said. “Non-violence is now woven into the fabric of American life in hundreds of boycotts across the South. It is marked on the jail walls of thousands of cells of Freedom Riders. Non-violent protest is no longer a bizarre or alien concept.” Dr. Kings non-violent marches, sit ins, rallies and passive demonstrations aroused the conscience of a nation and its’ government. Dr. Martin Luther King, ‘Time Magazines’ man of the year in 1963m Dr. Martin Luther King the recipient of numerous honorary degrees including a Doctor of Law form Yale University, Doctor Martin Luther King, at thirty-five years of age the youngest person and only the second Afro-American to be given the Nobel Peace prize. How does one pay tribute to a man of his stature after all the worlds greatest honors and recognition have been heaped upon him?

A tribute is something given, done, or said to show gratitude, honor, and praise. Dr. King was a soft spoken person who would probably would not approve of those words used toward him…gratitude, honor, and praise. He was not a man given to self aggrandizement. He humbled himself in the duty and destiny God had given him. In setting aside this day, Dr. King would more likely say the tribute is to each of you. When accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, with his rich compelling voice echoing in the great hall of Oslo Norway University, this simple Baptist minister from Atlanta, Georgia rose to the occasion, not for himself but for all mankind. He said, “I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when twenty-two million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of the civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headlines and their names will not appear in Who’s Who. Yet when the years have rolled past and the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvelous age in which we live, men and women will know, and children will be taught, that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization because these humble children of god were will to suffer for righteousness’ sake.”

On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, this peaceful warrior was taken from us. Dr. King was given to each of us, no matter what ethnic origin, no matter what language spoken, no matter what are, sex or religious belief, no matter how large or small a piece of this soiled world we claim as ours. Dr. Martin Luther King belongs to all the peoples of the earth, to who ever struggles to cast of the bonds of oppression, injustice and inequality. His day may not be celebrated throughout all the nations, but his deeds and words are revered by civilized people everywhere. He was able to raise his view of his fellow man above the dark night and shallow ignorance of prejudice. He saw a world where all live in harmony, accepting the individual for their worth as a person and their spirituality. He forced mankind to come face to face with the realization that we are all sisters and brothers eternally bound by that spirituality.

Dr. Kings greatness still walks in our midst even though he is given forever to the pages of history. Gratitude, honor, and praise. No amount of those things can pay tribute to Dr. King. No, if we are to pay tribute to this man, I believe he would say keep alive those truths I have given you. Honor me, not only in a day of observance but in your daily deeds and words, work together, pray and play together, with all your minds and hearts believe in on another. Accept your fellow as a kindred spirit. Be just toward and respectful of the rights of every person whose path you cross. Praise Dr. King by allowing no one to turn you aside from his dream. It is a dream for all humanity, and when we awaken to its reality it is the greatest most excellent tribute we can give to the memory of this man.

I know he must be smiling on this observance from on high. But the work he began is not yet finished. He gave us the dawn of a new day. The dreamers are awakening. Thank you Martin, we offer you gratitude for taking us out of our slumber and giving the world a dream of unity and brotherhood.

Gratitude, honor, and praise should not be our ultimate tribute to Dr. King. For this I know is a truth today as it was in Washington, D.C. when on a hot August in 1963, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he gave to each of us his dream in his now famous speech as he spoke these words taken from that deliverance:

“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.” 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 a table of brotherhood. We will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children join in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

Keeping that dream alive, living his belief in the brotherhood of mankind is the finest tribute we can make to Dr. Martin Luther King. I believe it is the ultimate tribute Dr. King would approve of and want from each of us.

God Bless you and thank you.

Copyright: 2008, Donald Harbour

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4 thoughts on “Tribute: Dr. Martin Luther King

  1. God bless Martin Luther King, and God bless you, Donald, for your human sensitivity. We are all human kind and, in spirit, children of the God Vine.

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  2. King

    All night mad-eyed attack dogs you had faced
    barked down nightmare streets then suddenly hushed.
    But here, gentled by grief, we stood in a thick line
    wrapping Spelman three times to glimpse your casket.
    Traffic choked the city. Darkness came down
    around our imprisoned masks. The long line wound
    through the night, the next day, and beyond. A twisting
    silence. Have we survived? Did you survive
    in us? Whose voice will make the word live
    or sing us up those hot asphalt hills
    toward the innocent land our fathers dreamed?
    We had wanted, at least, to touch your sleeve.
    We brought both babies as to a christening,
    but they grew hungry and we had to leave.

    When the child in me still tries to see Jesus,
    you are walking the red clay edge of blue highways,
    thousands following you into the slit eyes of small
    towns toward mastiffs whose will to kill is kept
    on an orgasmic chain, and into the nation’s capital
    to overturn the tables (Army Intelligence ordering
    Find out what dream he means)
    the bulldogfaced top cop slandering your memory.

    You walked into the smell of jails, the winding minds
    of southern sheriffs and were scared, but (since
    they too were scared) made them your sanctuaries.
    You faced that outlaw’s law a thousand times
    before he slunk into the dark to shoot, sure
    he did what police dogs wanted but could not do.

    The world flew into Atlanta into that flow, while
    The Grand Dragon, still locked in his room, listened
    to tapes of your speeches for the secret of your power
    (lacking your love of learning and knowledge of love).
    And Little Lester, barricaded in the governor’s office
    with State Police to guard his chicken guilt,
    looked out as greatness passed him and,
    again, missed his chance with mankind.
    By train, plane, bus, and in old and new cars
    (Alabama, Mississippi, Florida),
    headlights burning, white, black,
    old age, youth and middle filled one silence.
    No other testimony can erase this.
    No violence was here. Nothing against your truth.
    Van K. Brock
    From The Hard Essential Landscape]
    Contemporary Poetry Series, University Presses of Florida

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