Let Freedom Ring from the Heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania

When I am Queen of the World and Chief Calendar-Maker, I will designate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a Saint— for his commitment to, and promotion of, nonviolence. (In the Protestant tradition, all faithful believers are lowercase-s saints.)

In re-reading King’s “I have a Dream” speech recently, I was struck by how he draws upon Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to revision the words of our favored president. His speech was given at the Lincoln Memorial upon the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  In patterning his words upon Lincoln’s, King claims legitimacy with the author of the Emancipation Proclamation and positions himself as “heir” to Lincoln. By echoing the words of Lincoln, he subtly appeals to Lincoln’s authority. Lincoln challenged his audience to dedicate themselves to the “unfinished work” for which the soldiers fought and commit to “a new birth of freedom.” King challenges us to act now: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” King’s words remain equally true today.

Lincoln-Gettysburg Address

four score and seven years ago

now we are engaged in a great civil war

we have come to dedicate a portion of that field

but in a larger sense we cannot dedicate. . .

this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom


King-“I have a Dream”

five score years ago

one hundred years later the Negro still is not free

we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital

if America is to be a great nation, this [justice] must become true.


Shakespeare, the Declaration of Independence, the Holy Bible: echoes of all our revered texts are revealed throughout King’s speech.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  was like the prophet Isaiah, a voice crying out in the wilderness, calling for racial equality and justice. In the truest traditional of the saint, his is the exemplary life which inspires each of us to do better.

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

—Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Resources— Links

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change: http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/mlk-i-have-dream#

The Gettysburg Address: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=36&page=transcript


Thank you, Marion Oliver, for making us memorize The Gettysburg Address in eighth grade.

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