A call to conscience
Jan 17, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
In the last few years I’ve rediscovered my love of reading. As a young girl you could typically find me in one of two places: with my nose in a book or with my pen to paper, crafting new stories to share during recess. One particular series, “Banana Split”, told the far out adventures of my elementary school best friend and I. We travelled the world in a giant banana peel, so naturally it was pretty epic! Every time I move, I dig through my tote of childhood treasures and rediscover these tales. Somewhere between the hustle and bustle of creating a career and a grown-up life, books fell off my radar. But as I repack the tote, I’m reminded of my former happy place. I smile at my colorful illustrations, the fanciful narratives, and the sometimes-dubious liberties with punctuation and grammar. With this spirit of rediscovery inspiring me, I began another mission – getting to know my personal library again. Assessing my collection of college-era books and recent vintage finds, I gravitated to one in particular: A Call to Conscience: The landmark speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This compilation of speeches, edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, reminded me of the universal truth of Dr. King’s message. Hope, peace, and justice – ideals that are just as applicable in 2018 as they were when first shared by his voice over fifty years ago. It just so happened I was reading this book during a period of heavy travel. In between crowded airports, tense meetings, and turbulent flights – Dr. King’s words were with me. The introductions to each speech made the pages come to life and I found myself tearing up. Emotional because the struggles attested to still have bearing in our modern world, emotional because Dr. King’s description of the pain and anguish suffered spoke to my core, and I found these emotions overtaking me.
On my last flight home I finished the book and as I closed the cover, I sat in silence. Unsure how to digest all this emotion, I just sat. But the quiet didn’t last long; I started talking with the older gentleman next to me. Throughout the beverage service, seat belt warnings, and murmur of other passengers we talked. We shared. We focused on the importance of Dr. King’s work and the ongoing importance of his peaceful mission. Here we were, two strangers separated by age, gender, and background – but unified through the memory of Dr. King. As we celebrate Dr. King this week, I’d like to share some of the speech quotes that impacted me most – and I’d like to you remind you, dear readers, to explore and embrace. Learn about the people who paved the way for us – the vintage icons whose foundations we now stand upon. See current events through the lens of the past, not just the perspective of the now. Share your findings with others and don’t be afraid to start a thoughtful discussion with your fellow man or woman – you may just be surprised by the beauty that develops!
“And that seems to be the long story of history. There seems to be a throbbing desire, there seems to be an internal desire for freedom within the soul of every man. And it’s there: it might not break forth in the beginning, but eventually it breaks out. Men realize that, that freedom is something basic. To rob a man of his freedom is to take from him the essential basis of his manhood.” – The Birth of a New Nation, 1957
“And so we must say: Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to transform this pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our nation, now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of racial justice. Now is the time to get rid of segregation and discrimination. Now is the time.” – Freedom Rally in Cobo Hall, 1963
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.” – Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance, 1964