Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 77 years old this past month. What
would he think of our world today, our country, and our society? More
importantly, what would he be doing? Is his common dream still alive? Is the
world more just and equitable?
Few people have had a more dramatic and substantive sense of our changing
world than Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King, a passionate advocate of human
rights, made an unceasing commitment to work for a better world for all of
us. His dream was a world with justice, equality, and humanity, a vision for
which he gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Dr. King was the consummate global educator. An active participant in what
he termed the "great human revolution," he possessed "perspective
consciousness." He understood the process and dynamics of change, and he
believed that we controlled choices for the future. In his 1956 address,
"Facing the Challenge of the New Age," Dr. King eloquently argued that just
as discrimination and segregation were beginning to die in the United
States, internationally colonialism and racism were beginning to be "crushed
by the battering rams of surging justice:"
A new age brings with it new challenges.first we are challenged
to rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns
to the broader concerns of all humanity. The new world is a world of
geographical togetherness. This means that no individual or nation
can live alone. We must all learn to live together, or we will be forced
to die together. (138)
Through our scientific genius we have made the world a
now through our moral and spiritual genius we must make of
it a brotherhood.
If we will join together.we will be able to speed up the
coming of the new
world in which men will live together as brothers; a world
in which men will
beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into
pruning hooks; a world
in which men will no longer take necessities from the masses
to give luxuries
to the classes; a world in which all men will respect the dignity and worth
the human personality. (144)
Dr. King defined three essential elements in a fully integrated society.
First, integration demands recognition that the human personality is sacred.
In the first lines of the Declaration of Independence we find the concept of
the essential dignity and worth of each person. "Its language is, 'we the
people' not we the white people, not even we the citizens, not we the
privileged class, not we the high, nor we the low, but we the people...we
the human inhabitants' (119). Second, we need an understanding that to deny
an individual freedom is to deny life itself. Third, integration demands
that we recognize and revere that we are the same organic species, a human
In December 1964, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the
Civil Rights Movement. In his Oslo acceptance speech, he noted that a
beleaguered peace movement working for brotherhood is the essence of a prize
for peace. America's Civil Rights Movement had won this prize, he said,
because it refused to use oppression and violence to overcome oppression and
Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts...I accept this award
today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the
future of mankind. I refuse to accept the idea of the "isness" of man's
present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the
eternal "oughtness" that confronts hum. I refuse to accept the idea that
man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the
starless midnight of racism and war that the bright day of peace and
brotherhood can never become a reality. I refuse to accept the cynical
that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into a
of thermonuclear destruction.I have the audacity to believe that peoples
everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and
culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their
"To accept the Nobel Peace Prize," Dr. King concluded, "is to accept a
To work even harder not only for America's oppressed but for the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights exalting justice and equality.To receive the
peace prize, is the calling which takes me beyond national allegiances
Dr. King's growing global awareness was evident in his historic and
controversial speech in April, 1967. "A Time to Break Silence," links the
Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Dr. King called for a revolution
in human values, a shift from an ethnocentric worldview to a global
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis
loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional.
nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole
in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for
a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's
tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing
and unconditional love for all men. (253)
In "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" (1967) Dr. King writes of
the "world house," where, because of the powerful 20th century scientific
and technological revolutions, "all inhabitants of the globe are now
neighbors." "This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a
large house a great 'world house' in which we have to live together- black
and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and
Protestant, Moslem and Hindu- a family unduly separated in ideas, culture
and interest, who because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow
to live with each other in peace."(617)
In life and through his death, Martin Luther King Jr., exemplified the
prophet anticipating a new paradigm for a world of human equity and justice.
Today, the planet has become even more of a neighborhood. We are embedded in
a world of increasing change, complexity, and interacting systems such as
ecological, cultural, economic, and technological. Dr. King's dream is still
not reality and we wonder what he might think if he were alive today. We
have progress in some areas while we have been regressing in others, is
likely what he would think. What is needed, he would tell us, is a true
revolution of human values, a building of new world systems of justice and
equality, locally and globally, and questioning the fairness and justice of
many of our past and present social policies.
Martin Luther King's words are as powerful and farsighted today as they were
when first spoken. He clearly had a vision of what the world could, indeed
must, become if not only to survive, but prosper as a human family
sustaining the planet. It is our responsibility to help today's generation
to develop the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to ensure that Dr.
Kin's dream does become a reality. Let us seriously pause and reflect on the
messages of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on this May Day 2006.
All references are from James Washington (ed.) (1986) A Testament of Hope:
The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: Harper & Row.
David Blake Willis, Professor of Cultural Studies at Soai University, Osaka, Japan, has published research on globalization, transnational societies, and creolization. Walter Enloe is a Professor of Education at Hamline University, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. He is a founding member of the 1000 Cranes peace project and the former headmaster of the Hiroshima International School.