Friday, 25 January 2013

King's speeches

"Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase."
(Martin Luther King Jr.)

How many things that made you cry when you were just sixteen, with joy, anger or sadness or from sheer movement of the spirit, would make you weep like a child again today? 
Due to snow, sickness and work, I'm quite behind with my posts. I sincerely and particularly wanted to write something for "Martin Luther King Day", traditionally observed as a holiday across the United States on the third Monday in January since 1986. On 15th January this year, Dr Martin Luther King Jr would have been eighty four years old; instead, on 4th April, the world will remember that it is forty five years since his assassination. This year, MLK Day fell on 21st January, coinciding with the inaugural celebration of U.S. President Barack Obama's second term of office.
I dithered about posting this on Monday: I appreciate that some of my friends from the United States are not supportive of Obama's economic policies; and many Catholics are affronted by his views on homosexual partnerships and women's rights to choose abortion. Personally, I found it both pertinent and poignant that the first ever black president of the United States was being sworn in for an historic second term, with bibles belonging to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. I was further moved that Obama deferred to King in his inaugural speech, that all men must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalised, the victims of prejudice:

"Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice. We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth."
When I was fifteen, a few months before my father died, I was sporting two long plaits, an array of anti-racism and anti-this-and-that badges and a permanent petulant frown. My Mum asked Dad to talk some sense into me. She was worried that I was drawing attention to myself by going on rallies and antagonising local fascist groups (I'm sure the National Front in south London found my ribboned plaits particularly irritating). She wanted me to steer clear of anything political, be a bit more "girly" and throw myself more wholeheartedly into the school dances that the nuns organised for their young ladies with the boys from the local Catholic boys' academy. My Dad was a very wise man: instead of talking to me about anything calling itself "politics", he spoke to me about natural equality, justice and goodness. He told me that the late Senator Bobby Kennedy and Dr King were two men with very different backgrounds and voices who shared the same spirit and vision. This became an essence of equality for me.
Baptist minister King became one of the world's most powerful natural orators. My Dad had the transcripts of two of King's most quoted and iconic speeches; "I Have a Dream", from 1963, and the sadly prophetic "Mountain-top" speech, given the day before his death in 1968. He told me to read them and try to understand that real justice had more to do with gentleness and faith than with aggressive sloganeering and political clout. They made me cry. They didn't stop me attending angst-ridden rallies, shouting at the fascist groups in Lewisham High Street (before running away) or being needlessly uppity with the local police, who were only ever caught in the middle. But they touched me in a far deeper and more lasting way than any teenage-targeted rhetoric or subsequent trendy bandwagon cause.
After hearing Obama's own emotive yet punchy inaugural speech on Monday, I decided to listen to King's speeches again, now with the (sometimes dubious) benefit of You Tube. After all these years, the same words made me cry again. Some might say I haven't grown up much: I would say my finest dreams, like those of my father, haven't aged.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." 

"I have decided to stick to love...Hate is too great a burden to bear." 

"Let no man pull you so low as to hate him."

"Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” 

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." 

"I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars." 

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." 

"It is cheerful to God when you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart."

"A man who won't die for something is not fit
to live." 

"I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls... 
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character... I have a dream today."
(Martin Luther King Jr.)

" I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free / One"  The LighthouseFamily


  1. I remember those plaits!!! Your dad was a very wise man Gisele xxx

    1. He was, I realise that more than ever now hon. I miss my plaits now y'know - remember I came back from a holiday with my cousins in the south of France when I was 15 and the plaits were gone? My cousins all had trendy short spiky hair and took me to a salon where they put my hair in one big blonde plait and cut it off at the nape of my neck! Good to see you still have your luxurious locks! Hang on to 'em! xxx

  2. I remember!!! And we actually met through those plaits being trapped between the back of your chair and the front of my desk - do you remember??!! My locks have been disappearing gradually its now shortish at the back and longish at the front - one of my neighbours, when she saw it, said it was 'radical' LOL - Radical? Me? Yeah right!!!! Take care hun xxx

  3. ... at least you never tied my plaits to the back of my own chair, or through the old integral inkwell of the desk behind me - like Margaret McInulty, naughty mare! If I try to grow my hair longer than shoulder length now, it starts to flick up in a Doris Day style; hugely flattered as I am when old boys say I remind them of Doris, it's not my hairstyle of choice. I think you are quite radical; you always had a bit of edge to you! Speak soon, and love to you and Colin, Mary and the rest of the clan xxx