Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day. The idea for a federal holiday honoring MLK first came to Congress in 1979, but it fell five votes short. Opponents argued that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive. They also argued that because King never held public office, a holiday to honor a private citizen went against tradition. President Ronald Reagan opposed the idea, too, but he was forced to sign the holiday into law in 1983 when Congress sent it to him with a veto-proof majority.
Even today, several southern states refuse to acknowledge MLK Day as a standalone holiday. Instead, they recognize it as a combined celebration of the birthdays of MLK and, if you can believe it, the confederate general, Robert E. Lee. But for most of the nation, MLK Jr. day is recognized as a day of service that involves volunteering at nonprofits and charities in the local community.
In recognition of MLK day, our inspiration comes from King’s last Sunday sermon. He preached it at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on March 31, 1968, just a few days before he was assassinated in Memphis. Here is a short excerpt from his sermon, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”
Excerpt from “REMAINING AWAKE
THROUGH A GREAT REVOLUTION”
By Martin Luther King Jr.
I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.
Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. Before the beautiful words of the “Star Spangled Banner” were written, we were here.
For more than two centuries our forebearers labored here without wages. They made cotton king, and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions. And yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail.
We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent explosions are, I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.”
We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See MLK’s A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
Some more inspirational nuggets for today:
- On this MLK day, we remember the birthday of Daniel Hale Williams, the surgeon who performed the first open heart surgery. Both the surgeon and the patient were Black men. The patient’s name was James Cornish, and the surgery took place in 1893 at Provident Hospital on Chicago’s South Side. It was a hospital Williams helped found to improve Black residents’ access to healthcare. According to the Chicago Tribune, the rest of the medical community believed operating on a human heart was too risky. But even though he lacked X-rays, antibiotics, adequate anesthesia and modern surgical tools, Williams went forward with the operation. His gamble paid off. Cornish survived the operation and in 1894, Williams was appointed chief surgeon at the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington D.C., an institution that provided healthcare to formerly enslaved Blacks.
- Today also marks the death of Sargent Shriver. A World War II veteran, Shriver married JFK’s sister, Eunice Kennedy, in 1953. Shriver worked closely with minority communities during his brother-in-law’s campaign for president, and became the first director of the newly formed Peace Corps after the election. He also helped launch the Head Start program and served as the ambassador to France during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Following his death from Alzheimer’s in 2011, Shriver’s son, Mark, said of his father: “Daddy was joyful ’til the day he died and I think that joy was deeply rooted in his love affair with God … Daddy loved God and God loved him right back … Daddy let go. God was in control and, oh, what a relationship they had.”
That’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.
Be kind, take good care and we’ll see you soon.
Excerpt from “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” by Martin Luther King Jr. Fair use.
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