Happy Martin Luther King Day!
Clarence Jones, an aide to Martin Luther King, Jr., recounts the background of the famous “I have a dream” speech, which really is a spectacular piece of oratory. According to his account, Dr. King worked on a policy-type speech, showing it to a number of different individuals and getting their input. But when he actually got up there at the Lincoln Memorial to speak, the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson was in the crowd and said, “tell them about the dream!” Dr. King then improvised the speech, turning it into a sermon, which gave it its power.
I remember, growing up in small town Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s, seeing side-by-side water fountains, one with a sign for “whites” and one with a sign for “coloreds.” The town swimming pool was only open to black people on Wednesdays, after which the water would be changed for white people to swim in the rest of the week. I don’t know if black people were allowed to vote, but they certainly were not in much of the South.
I also remember the Civil Rights Movement and the change in the sentiments of that small town. It was, first of all, an application of transcendent morality to the treatment of black people. I recall vividly the appeal to Christian ethics and how churches of all stripes were exerting leadership. I remember how moved people were by Dr. King’s principles of non-violence and non-resistance. The Civil Rights Movement triumphed by simply winning people over.
The Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King was not just a political fight; rather, it was a moral crusade. It changed both political parties. It was predicated on moral principles being objectively valid. Churches exerted moral authority.
So Martin Luther King Day is a holiday that conservatives, as well as liberals, can celebrate.