The Unfinished Legacy of Martin Luther King

As you might know, Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which means Facebook and Twitter came alive with the words of Dr. King, who remains eminently quotable on a host of topics, not least of which were justice, inequality, race and war – evergreen topics about which his words still ring true today, 40-50 years after he first spoke them.

In the spate of MLK-related blog posts that also happens this time every year, the preacher at my church posted this gem of a YouTube video, King’s late 1950s appearance on Meet the Press when he was just 31 years old and leading the lunch-counter sit-ins across the South (Part 3, which contains the quote I want to discuss is above; here’s the link to Part 1). He was only a decade away from his death, but much would change in those 10 years, including the passage of a comprehensive civil rights bill. Just 40 years after his death, America elected a black man as president. There is no doubt that King accomplished much in the short time he had to do it.

It so happens that I’m reading the book Unfinished Reconciliation: Justice, Racism & Churches of Christ, published in 2003. In this case, Churches of Christ are the group of New Testament restorationist congregations who trace their lineage back to Alexander Campbell (the more conservative members would argue they trace it back to Jesus, but that’s simply untrue from a purely historical perspective).

Anyway, early in the book, Dr. Harold Marks, a minister at the Highland Street Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn., discusses the Minor Prophets and, though not explicitly – and perhaps not even intentionally, though I kind of doubt that – draws a connection between them and King, America’s most famous prophetic voice:

Hosea, Amos and Micah went against the flow. Their dreams were not what the common people of that time had in mind for their future. These Minor Prophets were not swayed by the cultural majority. Through God, they saw a different kind of world that God would create. There is power in a vision.

Somebody in every community must see people flowing to Zion to hear the word of God. Someone must see a vision of the nation hammering military hardware into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Someone must paint a picture of a society has his or her own fig tree and vine. Dreamers do not have dreams; dreams have dreamers. The dreams come from God, not from us.

Many of King’s dreams came true, though he did not live to see them. But there is still a glaring blind spot in our self-congratulation over the amount of racial progress we’ve made in the four decades since King’s death.

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