Heirs of the Dream

Last year, on this commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I wrote my thoughts on the State of the Dream, all those years later. I’d briefly like to revisit that idea.


Our country in general enjoys a liberty that was purchased by the blood of others.  From the American Revolution to the Greatest Generation to the brave men and women sacrificing to keep us free from radical Islamists today, their work has carved out a country where we have the liberty to agree or disagree, to raise our families in the faith of our choice, to push and fight and work and sweat and gain more than we ever thought we could have — because of freedom purchased with blood.

Dr. King fought persecution and stood for the ideals of liberty for an oppressed people, that he eventually gave his life fighting to achieve.  I credit him and others like him with the fact that years ago the disgusting physical signs of senseless separation have been obliterated from society, and justly so.  We have to ask ourselves the question, though “Did the heirs of the dream get all he lived and died to attain?”

If breaking the chains that seemed so permanent when he marched and preached and addressed the nation so eloquently was what he came to do, then the answer would be a resounding “yes”. Institutional prejudice is simply not tolerated in this day and time, where in his day it was insisted upon and maintained. If changing the willingness of the majority to treat the minority with respect where it’s due was part of it, the answer still would be a “yes”.  Living right in the heart of Mississippi, “Yes, sir” is dispensed where appropriate regardless of race, though in my childhood it was certainly not so.


I recently re-read Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set in England and France during the period of the bloody French Revolution.  It is not easy reading, and certainly not for the faint of heart or the immature, but I recommend it as a classic that has endured for a reason.   A bitterly repressed and cruelly abused underclass of people, who were seen to exist solely for the sake of the aristocrats, as slaves were once viewed in this country, had no hope. They weren’t technically “owned”, but may as well have been for all the options they had on improving their situation. They had no political voice or political power whatsoever. The rulers of their day were unable to see that the boiling point for that “underclass” of people was near, until the pent-up rage exploded and brought down the King of France and all the established religious and political society in cruel fashion.

I have often credited Dr. King and others who insisted on nonviolent approaches to the inequalities of his day with avoiding a bloody civil war or conflict in our country.  Heaven knows it was bloody enough as it was, but what could have been did not materialize.  In that sense, the excesses of a revolution were avoided. But there is an aspect of the French Revolution that was captured by Dickens, through his character Madam Defarge, that  bears looking at.  Once the threats of real opposition to the underclass had been annihilated by the revolutionaries through summary executions at the guillotine, the architects of the overthrow seemed to have no further plan than continued annihilation. Rather than finding a place to rebuild and start to support meaningful advancements for those they were supposed to fight for, they began to arrest others for the slightest “crime” (passing many laws and making the appearance of any dissent to their cause punishable by heinous death). When Madame Defarge, the prime mover in Dickens’ account of the Revolution, is questioned by her husband  about “a place to stop”,  Madame Defarge’s response is, “Tell Wind and Fire where to stop, but don’t tell me.” Though the story reveals how her history of wrong suffered had built the bitterness up in her soul, the result, in the story and of stories like hers in the reality, was devastation that healed nothing.

History bears out that the French Revolution began as something perhaps unavoidable under the circumstances, but snowballed into the Reign of Terror, where people who were not prepared to govern no longer knew what to do with themselves after seizing control, except to continue to exact judgement on the perceived persecution that long ago had been stamped out.  I realize any comparisons are minimal and potentially confounding to my point,  but to my personal observation, the real forces that once kept a Black man or woman with a true will to advance from prospering, as someone of another race with that same will could do, “died off” a long time ago (don’t tell Oprah — she wouldn’t understand).  The greater threat to liberty and prosperity for Black men and women I see is the perceived injustice fomented by a sector that simply doesn’t know what to do with itself if it can’t find a White majority enemy to name as the bad guy.  I don’t believe Dr. King gave his life for that.


I remember when I first read in school that had Abraham Lincoln been allowed to live and oversee the aftermath of the Civil War, the Reconstruction lunacy would not have occurred.  His desire was for a peaceful, orderly reconciliation that brought healing and growth to the nation.  Perhaps if Dr. King had been allowed to live and continue to speak into the gains made by the Civil Rights Act and similar successes, the true goal of his efforts — that an equal opportunity for advancement would exist, wherein people of all races were viewed for their abilities and achievements rather than the color of their skin — would have been championed, rather than what we have swirling around those actualities today: voices that continue to whisper “you’re not really free as long as anyone else has more than you do, however honestly they got it.”

I cannot say what I perceive in the world today, particularly in the political arena, more eloquently than Louisiana Senator Elbert Guillory did when explaining his switch of political parties within his state.  I implore you to hear what he has to say. I am not writing here about parties, because I see faults in all the political system, but one party has tended to hawk the idea that meaningful change sans permanent social programs is a blow to Black Americans.  I agree with the good Senator’s take on that. How can I view you as a capable, intelligent, responsible citizen, while simultaneously making long-term plans to feed and house you because I do not anticipate your becoming able to do so for yourself?  That is not the respect Dr. King sought.


So how are the heirs of the dream faring? Worsening social climates in the last few years, that inadvertently (or otherwise) encourage Black on White violent crimes and make young Black men and women think they are gaining something by doing so is a reproach to Dr. King’s legacy. Refusing to discuss the idea that free enterprise is a better way out of poverty than welfare would disgust him, I believe.

Nipping at one another over any disparaging remark made in public toward a Black person shuts down public dialogue, and shouts the message, “There is nothing about me that could be the basis of your disagreeing with me other than my race — in other words, I have no thoughts, no ideas, no personal habits or traits that could possibly spark your disagreement; there is nothing of substance to me other than the color of my skin.” I don’t believe that is the case for one second, but when certain voices who claim to represent the Black community lash out over any disagreement as though it must be racially motivated, they are in effect saying that very thing.  I can disagree with you on your dialogue and your ideas because that is what intelligent, intellectual people do: They dialogue, find areas of agreement and sort through their areas of disagreement.  They don’t smile and overlook what they don’t agree with for risk of offending the other party, for by doing so they would be dubbing that personal incapable of rational argument.

So, final thoughts? I think, sadly, it is quite possible that there was an arc of change sparked by Dr. King’s legacy that is now trending downward, because the very tools that some used to help press for change could not be abandoned when change came.  Senator Guillory says it’s because one group actually seeks to control another, but it’s not the group you think.  I pray there can be true change, but it comes with truly seeking the One who made us all, and truly submitting to His laws that are “of no respect of persons.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Holocaust, and history in the making

What makes sane, intelligent people choose to follow a Hitler? To assist in rounding up, imprisoning, torturing, and murdering an entire race of people?

The war to stop Hitler ended a mere fourteen years before I came on the scene of humanity, and it has held a sort of painful fascination for me most of my life. I suppose it began when, in my early teens, I came across a copy of Night by Elie Wiesel, and devoured it. Since then, there have been many more: Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and other individual stories similar to theirs; Anne Frank, and other accounts related through magazines or media. It just seems I never tire of reading the stories of individual bravery in the face of unbelievable atrocity.

The war many of my contemporaries were fascinated with in my growing-up years was the last one fought on our soil.  “The South’s gonna rise again” and Rebel flags abounded. I felt odd being unable to connect with those sentiments so common at the time. I suppose I  harbored a certain level of discomfort with the tales of glory from the Civil War days, though I didn’t fully think through the reason for my feelings. I knew I didn’t like the premise the war was fought on.  I lived, shopped, and eventually went to school with the people who my forefathers fought to keep enslaved, and nothing about that seemed to be a cause for celebration. Still, I loved the South, and still do.

Perhaps if I hadn’t waited so long to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriett Beecher Stowe, I’d have felt more clearly aligned with the persecuted, and the whole thing could have come clearer to me earlier on. (It wasn’t exactly required reading in school, as I recall). As it is, I recently finished the book that legend says was declared by Abraham Lincoln to have “started this great war”, and with good reason.

Stowe lived the conflict within the nation in the years leading up to war, wherein the Northern states where she lived were trying to come to grips with the insistence of the Southern states that slavery was not only acceptable, but vital to their economic survival.  Debates raged on whether newly admitted states would be slave states or free states.  Slaves escaping to the North, crossing into Ohio, became free by virtue of being in “free states”, until the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, requiring them to be handed over to their “owners” or the bounty hunters sent to retrieve them.  For this to have been the case in the land where we live just 150 years ago is appalling and baffling to me.

As I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the stories of human beings relegated to the state of property burned deep into my heart.  Stowe more than accomplished her mission of making at least Northern states’ residents (and many in the South as well) to see that the pain of one human being is not more or less than that of another under similar circumstances.  No one thought much of separating families for the personal gain of the slave trader and plantation owner, or even of using physical violence to force one group of people to be subservient to another. This was defended politically, and eventually with military force.

I’d never thought of the two scenarios — slavery in the U.S. and the Holocaust– as having so much in common until reading Stowe’s book.  The common element between the Holocaust and slavery seems to me to be the dehumanization of the unfortunate group having been targeted in the minds of the dominant one.  It wasn’t a problem for them to treat others inhumanely, because they’d deemed that they weren’t “human”, in the same sense that they,  the Aryans or the Whites were.  People bought into a “reason” why the system had to be in place: a pure race to be established in Germany, or the economic superiority or even stability of the South to be maintained. They used lofty words like “destiny”, and “rights” to justify what we now see as unreasonable and cruel (even criminal) behavior.

History helps us see that there are no good reasons for enslaving or annihilating other people groups, and certainly no reasons that can stand up to the scrutiny of civilized thought or Christian teaching.  Yet the churches in Germany cranked up the music to drown out the noise of cattle cars rattling by with human beings screaming for help inside.  Churches in the American South somehow managed to concoct a doctrine that said some races were just meant to serve others, and Southern pulpits proclaimed “God is on our side”  as Confederate soldiers marched off to war.

The underlying truth is this: human beings are fully capable of being persuaded that wrong is right, as long as it is proclaimed and practiced by enough of the people around them, so that to make any change from that practice or ideal becomes radical and dangerous.  As a people, we are as capable as ever of believing a lie, even a mass lie, or worse yet not fully believing but silently assenting to evil.

Where does this put you? How will you know if you’re obeying truth or following a lie? What’s the standard for which is which anyway?

The first step in the truth test is to examine where we are in relation to the teachings that the world itself was founded on:  God’s word.  We can find ourselves “earnestly contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints”, by searching out and obeying the doctrine of the Book of Acts church (the original doctrine of the church), and using the boldness that doctrine produced in the first believers to go against whatever tide we find in society or the religious world that may be contrary to God’s plan.

You see, your history is in the making right now.  You can choose to be enslaved to what is contrary to the word of God, and promote the same. Or, you can opt for the freedom he provides through obedience to the gospel and change your world and those around you.

So what do you think? Have you ever connected these two periods in history? Where would you have found yourself had you been caught up in the events of those days?  I’d love to hear from you, if you’d like to leave a comment.