Reflections on Martin Luther King Day

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January 17, 2011 by Daniel Stack

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 spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.


– From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964 (text quoted from


Today our nation celebrated Martin Luther King Day. I felt it would be appropriate to quote one of his lesser known speeches, the one he gave upon his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. In that speech Reverend King linked the struggle for civil rights to the struggle for peace. While the role of Rev. King as a crusader for civil rights is rightfully what he is best known for, he was also passionate about international matters  and of attaining world peace. He spoke on things ranging from the founding of modern Ghana to the war in Vietnam. As a Catholic I was always taught that the Kingdom of God is not something we go to after we die, it is something we are called to build on Earth. In that same speech, Rev. King said:

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.


To be honest, I don’t think its fair to say that he viewed justice on the world stage and civil rights as separate things. He always crusaded for the rights of all people to have lives of dignity. But naturally he saw and experienced how far African-Americans in the United States had to travel to obtain those lives of dignity. In 2008 the United States elected its first African-American president. In 1958 the act of a black man even casting a vote for president was unthinkable in the South.

There are those who feel the dream of Martin Luther King has been realized. I think we’ve made steps toward that dream, but we have far to go. There are still great gaps in education, prison population, children born out of wedlock, income levels, etc. Even were those gaps to be closed and absolute equality be reached, I believe he’d still be fighting for a just society where everyone had the opportunity of gainful, meaningful employment, where no one feared going to bed hungry or providing for their families, where the nations stood at peace with one another. It may seem an unobtainable dream, but the best dreams are.

[Note – my favorite collection of Rev. King’s speeches is A Call to Conscience. It is especially inspiring to actually listen to him give those speeches, something the included CDs (or audio file) allow you to do.]


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January 2011
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