Remembering Dr. King
I can imagine no greater tribute that can be paid to a human than to suspend school once a year in their honor. All jest aside, as I read through the text of “I Have a Dream,” the speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered from the Lincoln Memorial over fifty years ago, I am struck with the character of that man. His desire for a more just, free world was so powerful that it has transformed and continues to transform society.
As I read his speech and consider his legacy, I wonder what lessons it contains for us today, especially those of us who are students here at Southern Virginia. We are on the road of attaining a liberal arts education. Our professors train us in the best works and thoughts that the history of civilization has to offer. It is clear that King was no stranger to these ideas; his speech is full of quotations from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. These documents formed the intellectual basis of American society, and although King was determined to change and improve that society, he did so not by rejecting it whole cloth, but by latching on to the deepest wisdom of America’s past and using that to move it forward. This paradoxical yet synthetic blend of conservatism and liberalism, tradition and innovation, profound respect for the past and near iconoclastic willingness to change for the better is what made King’s vision so powerful.
Martin Luther King Jr. has joined the very cultural canon from which he drew, which is why we revere and remember him. Through our liberal arts education we can come to understand his ideas along with the work of countless other great thinkers, artists, writers, actors, scientists, entrepreneurs, statesmen, and innovators who have shaped our world. If our vision of the future is to triumph over the injustices we confront, we must learn to build upon this wisdom and get to work. Then we will have a dream, see it fulfilled, and be able to “Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”