Remembering MLK: A Dream Deferred

“The poor, black and white, are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. What happens to a dream deferred? It leads to bewildering frustration and corroding bitterness.”

In memory of Martin Luther King Jr., I could not recommend more highly listening to his Three Evils of Society speech.

The Three Evils of Society is one of MLK’s lesser known speeches, but one of his strongest. He displays his amazing eloquence and breathtaking talent for speech, gripping a listener by the collar and surprising you with his bitterness and his tenderness, his compassion and his ambition. In this speech, much more so than the famous I Had a Dream and On the Mountain speeches, he demonstrates his concrete political ambitions, and sharp socioeconomic awareness. MLK is much more than a civil rights activist and peaceful demonstrator. He is a preacher, a brother, a father. But this speech proves to me that he is also a social entrepreneur–a man with a keen awareness of society’s injustices, and the will to upturn them.

What are the three evils?

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

1. Racism

2. Poverty

3. War

In this speech lies a biting critique of American capitalism that still resonates with perfect relevance towards today’s issues of race, poverty, and war. In the speech he essentially demands a redistribution of political and economic power. He recognizes both capitalism and the government’s role in creating poverty for black communities, but focuses his attacks on the government, bringing to light the hypocrisy that can sometimes be our democracy–the millions of dollars going to wealthy plantations, and yet the absurd outcry against poverty programs. This could not resonate more today, considering our government’s generous support of large corporations and the conservative outcry against programs that spend money to support the poor.

We are arrogant in professing to be concerned about the freedom of foreign nations while not setting our own house in order.

He also speaks in acerbic protest against the Vietnam War, and the rampant material culture of the United States that still persists today. His protest against against the cruelties and the fruitlessness of the Vietnam War apply perfectly to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Never has MLK, to me, seemed so radical. He criticizes our efforts to enforce democracy abroad and demands that the unemployed not have to suffer the poverty and humiliation that comes along with their position. He says that we have to put as much money and effort towards educating our children as we do towards building automobiles. He requests that power in organizations that alleviate poverty be shifted towards locals in the affected neighborhoods.  Until listening to this speech, I had not quite realized how much MLK’s dream had manifested for him and many others in firm political objectives.

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world, declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust morals and thereby speed the day when every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

MLK asks if Americans will choose materialism, or humanism. Though everyone is familiar with the mountain-shaking biblical imagery of King’s words, I had yet not realized his socialist undertones. In the past 50 years, in many ways, not much has changed. Americans have chosen materialism, and with the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court has declared that those with more money have more speech.

This too is one of King’s self-evident truths: that in our abundant wealth and prosperity, it is wrong that so many suffer as they do in poverty. And that this must be addressed with government policy and individual action.

I’m not trying to make a particular political point with this blog post; rather I’m just recording my gut thoughts and reaction to this tremendous speech who is the reason I’m off classes today.

Who is part of the reason so many of my friends and peers are where they are today.

Whose words, and the power that lies in the truth he speaks, still can inspire us to create change today.

Who reminds me why I felt such frustration when major media outlets called the outbreak of student activism at Yale petty complaints, and a representation of Millennials aversion to free speech (this is just so false but I won’t even get into it now). While the problems that we face at Yale may be privileged problems in comparison to the terrible poverty that King discusses, it is the revolutionary spirit of activism that is essential to defend every time. The spirit that will allow us to choose humanism every time.

And remember:

“So let us stand in this convention knowing that on some positions, cowardice asks the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscious asks the question, is it right? And on some positions, it is necessary for the moral individual to take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular; but he must do it because it is right. And we say to our nation tonight, we say to our Government, we even say to our FBI, we will not be harassed, we will not make a butchery of our conscious, we will not be intimidated and we will be heard.”


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