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.
Here are the concluding words of “Where Do We Go From Here?”, delivered by Martin Luther King at the 11th annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) at Atlanta on 16 August 1967.
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
Self-government is neither fast nor easy. 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.
(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.
More New Year’s Day inspiration from our past
Here are some posts about good news. See others at Good news about America.
- Good news: The Singularity is coming (again) — History tends to look better over longer time horizons. For example, consider one bit of good news: the Singularity is coming.
- Some good news (one of the more important posts here) – I do not believe we need fear the future, despite the tough times coming soon. This remains a great nation, not because of our past but because of us and our polity. We differ from almost every other nation. The difference consists of our commitment to our political order, of which our Constitution is the foundation. In this we are like Athens more than our neighbors …
- Is America’s decline inevitable? No! – Why be an American if one has no faith in the American people? How can you believe in democracy without that faith?
- Let us light a candle while we walk, lest we fear what lies ahead — Many people look to the future with fear. We see this fear throughout the web. Right-wing sites describe the imminent end of America: overrun by foreigners, victim of cultural and financial collapse. Left-wing sites describe “die-off” scenarios due to Peak Oil, climate change, and ecological collapse – as the American dream dies from takeover by theocrats and fascists. Most of this is nonsense, but not the prospect of massive changes in our world. But need we fear the future?
- Fears of flying into the future. — Reasons we need not fear the future.
- Good news about the 21st century, a counterbalance to the doomsters.
- “America’s Greatest Weapon”.
- Some thoughts about the economy of mid-21st century America — Optimistic words from the greatest economist of the 20th century.