Sobering words from a great man about the road ahead
Summary: As we start the New Year, these words from the past can inspire us today — as they inspired their audience 45 years ago. Inspiration might be the most valuable support we need in 2012.
Dr. Martin Luther King
“Where Do We Go From Here?”
Excerpt from his speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at Atlanta on 16 August 1967
Here are the concluding words of his speech:
And I must confess, my friends, that the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. And there will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair.
Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again, with tear-drenched eyes, have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs.
But difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. And as we continue our charted course, we may gain consolation from the words so nobly left by that great black bard, who was also a great freedom fighter of yesterday, James Weldon Johnson:
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days
When hope unborn had died.
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place
For which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way
That with tears has been watered.
We have come treading our paths
Through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the bright gleam
Of our bright star is cast.
Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us the courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.
Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.” Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, “We have overcome! We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome.”
A look at the great things we’ve accomplished in the past
Sometime after WWII we left that path of self-government, finding it too difficult for us. When we again step onto that road we might not see the eventual victory; it might lie too far in the distance. But it’s there. The cost of the journey might prove high, but probably small compared to what we’ve paid in the past. Such as in these two chapters of our history.
(1) In May 1764 Samuel Adams took his first steps to end British rule in America (see here for details). That same year a small group of people in Boston formed the first of the Committees of Correspondence. The Revolution ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
(2) In 1774 Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first anti-slavery society. In 1868 we ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. In the mid-1960’s the great Civil Rights legislation ended the government-sponsored oppression of Blacks.
We can do equally great deeds in the future. We lack only the vision and the will.
Other notes from the past
For a full listing see the FM Reference Page History – economic, military and geopolitical.
Lessons and even advice from the past — and notes from the future:
- Our futures seen in snippets of the past, 16 June 2008
- America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past, 30 June 2008
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris, 1 July 2008
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
- A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009
- A warning from Alexis De Tocqueville about our military, 7 August 2009
- Another note from our past, helping us see our future, 16 September 2009 — by Daniel Ellsberg
- A note from America’s diary: “My power proceeds from my reputation…”, 22 September 2009
- A lesson from the Weimar Republic about balancing the budget, 10 February 2010
- A great philosopher and statesman comments on the Bush-Obama tweaks to the Constitution, 10 October 2010
- Important history to remember on Earth Day, 23 April 2011
- A top businessman and banker explains our political and economic challenges, 30 April 2011
- A warning from the past. Might the American Empire drag down America?, 4 August 2011
- Advice from one of the British Empire’s greatest Foreign Ministers, 18 November 2011