Men and women who have made a mark on history remain under endless scrutiny – and the writing and re-writing of their history. Were they good? Evil? Great? Petty? It’s been said: “The globe has been circumnavigated, but no man ever yet has; you may survey a kingdom and note the results in maps, but all the savants in the world could not produce a reliable map of the poorest human personality.” So the richest of personalities, like Martin Luther King, present a formidable challenge to historians.
It is my view that if one believes there is a Truth, and I include myself among those who do, then that truth can be seen to define and characterize the words, deeds and themes of the life of a great man. And, in fact, those words, deeds and themes strike a chord responsive with those of other men of stature and greatness.
Clearly, every man – even the greatest – are flawed. Anyone who has studied King’s history is aware of his shortcomings. However, he also scaled the heights. The challenge for African Americans today, is to understand and grab the truth that King touched in his greatest moments.
Dr. King knew that God’s greatest gift to man is freedom, and he dedicated his life so that his brothers, sisters and all men and women might enjoy and be worthy of this gift. He sensed the meaning and nature of freedom, and as a great musician captures the vision of the composer of his music, Dr. King felt and understood the dreams and aspirations of our nation’s founders.
The record of King’s words is considerable. However, his observation “that every man is heir to a legacy of dignity and worth; every man has rights that are neither conferred nor derived from the state, they are God-given,” says it all for me.
Martin Luther King understood that the freedom of every man and woman is a gift of our Creator, and not the result of government largesse. Slaves, not free men, look to others to provide for them. The great question that remains is: Why, after the hard fought civil-rights victories of the 1960s – after we straightened a crooked political and legal landscape – did African Americans buy the liberal line and turn back to government and politics? Why didn’t we take the fruits of victory, go home and get to the business and hard work of building our lives as free people?
Blacks have paid a dear price for this mistake. Forty years ago, 70 percent of black families were intact, with fathers and mothers together and at home. Today, 60 percent of black children grow up in fatherless homes and 70 percent of black babies are born to unwed mothers. The welfare state, looming large over the black community for the last half century, has acted as our own weapon of mass destruction, destroying the values and sense of personal responsibility in our community, without which every man remains a slave.
Every black child today should examine Dr. King’s deeds as well as his words. Martin Luther King’s life is proof that ultimately politicians will march to the tune of men of faith and conviction. Too often, today, we see this truth in reverse. It was as a free man that Martin Luther King lived and it was as a free man that he died.
Every black child today should consider what Dr. King achieved in a world of Jim Crow and understand what they can achieve today in a world far less legally and socially oppressive. Let us teach our children that Dr. King’s life demonstrates that a man’s accomplishments reflect what is inside of him and not when, where or how he or she was born.
Let us shake off the yoke of government and become truly free, carrying forth Dr. King’s legacy and assure that our lives reflect the content of our character, faith and conviction.