Today –Wednesday, August 28th, 2013– marks the fiftieth anniversary of The March on Washington during the height of The African-American Civil Rights Movement in The United States. At that march, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, which, of course, not only rallied civil rights activists at the time, but continues to inspire people all over the world.
Dr. King, no less, spoke in Winston-Salem the very next year at Goler Metropolitan AME Zion Church. [To read a previous post about his visit, one can click here.] One wonders, though, what Dr. King might speak about were he to visit Winston-Salem today, forty-nine years after his initial visit. With the current goings-on in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan, one cannot help but think Dr. King might address the problem of war in the world. King did, after all, famously say: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Below is an adaptation of Dr. King’s renowned “I Have a Dream Speech.” It imagines Dr. King giving a speech today, in 2013, on the grounds of Old Salem, chosen in that the town’s name can actually be translated as “peace” and that it was founded by pacifists. It is not difficult to imagine the enormous turnout a present-day visit to The Twin City by Dr. King would bring.
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as a great demonstration for peace in the history of our world.
Nearly twelve score years ago, one of America’s founding fathers –whose birthplace sits just four hours from where we stand today– penned “The Declaration of Independence.” This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to the world that no person should be allowed to deny others life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of oppression. Yet, almost two hundred forty years later, we must face the tragic fact that thousands on this Earth are still denied the right to live. Two hundred thirty-seven years later, the lives of thousands are still sadly crippled by the destruction of war and the devastation of violence. Two hundred thirty-seven years later, men and women live within terrifying nightmares that are battlefields whilst others’ sweet dreams of tranquility come true. Two hundred thirty-seven years later, men and women still languish in all corners of this world and find themselves helpless to cease the warring in their own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
In a sense we have come to Old Salem, this historic place, to fulfill a prophecy. When the founders of this settlement named it “Salem," they prophesied that it would, literally, be a place of “peace.” Likewise, when the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of “The Constitution” and “The Declaration of Independence,” they were signing a prophecy foretelling what this nation would be - a prophecy to which every future American was to fall heir. This prophecy foretold that this country would set an example to the world by guaranteeing the inalienable right to life. It is obvious today that the vision of our founders has not been realized. Instead of honoring its sacred obligation, America has set an example to the world as though its founders prophesied that “the end justifies the means.”
Yet we refuse to believe that their vision of peace is unseeable. We refuse to believe that we have lost sight of the great imaginings that served as the foundation of this nation. So we have come to envision again the same prophecy, a prophecy that guides us to demand the pricelessness that is peace and to deter the foolishness that is fighting.
We have also come to this historic spot to remind America and the world of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of “putting it off” or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of “The Declaration of Independence.” Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of death to the sunlit path of accord. Now is the time to lift our nation from that slippery slope of “might makes right” to the solid rock of fellowship.
Now is the time to make peace a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the world to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of bloodshed will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of conversation and compromise – 2013 is not an end but a beginning. Those who claim that the fighting taking place across the world is a “necessary evil” are those content with business as usual.
There will, however, be neither true rest nor tranquility in America or the world until every man and woman is granted the right to live in peace. The whirlpools of unease will continue to pull at the foundations of our nation until the bright day of peace emerges.
Also, this is something that I must say to you, those who stand on the worn threshold which leads into the palace of peace. In the process of fulfilling the prophecy of our founders, we must set an example for the rest of the world of how to live in accord with one another, and we, too, must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for peace by drinking from the cup of force and the chalice of military might.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of diplomacy and honor the dignity of every single human life. We must not allow our thirst to see an end to war justify our own use of physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. We must remember the words of Christ who said, “I leave you peace; my own peace I give to you.” The marvelous new enthusiasm which has engulfed many peaceful warriors must not lead us to hate violent warriors, for many on the battlefield, as evidenced by their presence here today, have seen first-hand war’s devastation and realize that peace in any one country is tied up with peace around the world.
They also realize that their right to live in peace is inextricably bound to all people’s right to live in peace. We cannot walk alone, and, as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees to peace on Earth, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as men, women, and children continue to be the victims of the unspeakable horrors of warfare.
We can never be satisfied as long as people –heavy with the fatigue of life’s burdens– cannot, at the very least, live in war-free villages, towns, and cities.
We cannot be satisfied as long as a person’s basic mobility is from a battlefield to a neglected refugee camp. We can never be satisfied as long as children are shot dead before they can reach adulthood and robbed of the worthiness of their lives by claims labeling them as mere “collateral damage.”
We cannot be satisfied as long as a young person raised by members of Al-Qaeda feels he or she cannot be a conscientious objector, and a young person raised in America believes there is no goodness in conscientiously objecting.
No –no, we are not satisfied- and we will not be satisfied until peace rains down like a mighty shower and righteousness rolls down like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from battlefields in the deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for peace left you battered by the storms of on-going bitterness and staggered by the winds of dictatorial oppression. You have been the veterans of war-induced suffering.
Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Don’t give up on Iraq, don't give up on Afghanistan, don't give up on Syria, don’t give up on Egypt, don’t give up on Iran, don’t give up on North Korea, don’t give up on Israel and Palestine, and don’t give up on the murders in Baltimore, the shootings in Chicago, or the gangs in Los Angeles. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, though –even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow– I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, [and] endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these [is] life."
I have a dream that one day in the central desert of Iran, sons of Iranian Shiite Muslims and the sons of American Southern Baptists will be able to sit down together at the table of friendship. I have a dream that one day even the nation of North Korea, a country cold with the chill of hating others, will be transformed into an oasis of peace and compromise.
I have a dream that my children and grandchildren will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, the language that they speak, the religion that they practice, or the flag that flies over their homeland, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today . . . I have a dream that one day in Israel and Palestine, –with their rocket attacks, with their feelings of bitterness and discord– one day right there in Israel and Palestine, little Jewish boys and Jewish girls will be able to join hands with little Muslim boys and Muslim girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today . . . I have a dream that one day every valley shall be raised up, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made smooth, and the crooked places shall be made straight. The glory of The Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I go back to work. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of harmony. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for peace together, knowing that there will be peace one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "Peace is flowing like a river, flowing out of you and me. Flowing out into the desert, setting all the captives free." No less, if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let peace flow like the snaking Missouri River that rises in The Rocky Mountains. Let peace flow like the mighty Mississippi River that empties into The Gulf of Mexico. Let peace flow like the wandering Yukon River that leads to The Bering Sea. Let peace flow like The Rio Grande that binds us to our neighbors to the south. Let peace flow like the prodigious Ohio River on which Lewis and Clark began their exploration of this great land.
Yet, not only that. Let peace flow like The Nile in Africa. Let peace flow like The Onyx in Antartica. Let peace flow like The Yangtze in Asia. Let peace flow like The Murray in Australia. Let peace flow like The Lempa in Central America. Let peace flow like The Danube in Europe. Let peace flow like The Amazon in South America. Let peace flow down from every hill and mountain side, through every land, and out to every sea. Let peace flow . . .
When we allow peace to flow – when we let it flow through every city and every town, every village and every hamlet, every state and every nation, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children –Africans and Americans, Asians and Europeans, Australians and Hispanics, Christians and Hindus, Jews and Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, Sunnis and Shiites, Conservatives and Liberals, Communists and Capitalists, Socialists and Monarchists, men and women, young and old, rich and poor– will be able to join hands and sing the words: "Peace at last! Peace at last! Thank God Almighty, there is peace at last!"
• For Examiner.com, I’m Guy Montgomery.
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