Remember, Celebrate, Act: A Day On Not A Day Off!Posted in African American Communities, America, Democracy, Freedom, Leadership, M.L.King Jr Life and Celebration, Speeches
Remember, Celebrate, Act: A Day On, Not A Day Off!
Delivered at the Department of the Army
U.S. Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command
Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
January 9, 2018
Carlyle Fielding Stewart III
Dear Brothers and Sisters of our great American family! Thank you for serving our nation and its various communities through your service to us all. We are grateful for the commitment and sacrifices that you have made on behalf of our nation as we remember and celebrate and act on our cherished legacies of freedom and liberty, peace and justice and equity and equality in our Constitutional Democratic Republic in these United States of America.
And we continue to uphold the great ideals upon which our nation stands; those higher principles and realities in which so many have fought, bled and died to preserve, and who continue to serve our nation by meeting every challenge and foe, we shall never forget the depths and breaths of discipline and devotion of people like yourselves and others who still keep to that nobler, higher vision of the “City On the Hill;” to a light shining in the darkness in words of the Gospel of John, who keep the torch lights of freedom forever burning; who still remain true as steadfast witnesses to the faith and promises of God and country, and who always remember the importance of cherishing and living those ideals here at home and also abroad in a world still in dire need of America’s visionary leadership.
We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of one of America’s sons; one of her greatest civilian freedom fighters and soldiers for truth and justice; a man who gave his life in service to the people and his country; a man who understood the risks, challenges and sacrifices so needed to advance the great causes of human kind; a man hailing from a long line of Christian ministers and preachers; a man who worked tirelessly to build a better nation for Americans of people of African descent which also had a profound impact on others in our nation who love freedom and still come this country yearning for freedom and a better life. He led a movement which also became a beacon light for people seeking true freedom the world over; a movement that later transformed into a universal quest for freedom everywhere for many people of different races, creeds and cultures, religions and backgrounds.
It was a movement hearkening back to the Exodus and Freedom traditions of the Bible, to the Old Testament Prophets, to the ministry of Jesus, to the Constitutional Confederacy of the Iroquois Nations, a document which inspired some of the founding Fathers of this nation, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as they engaged in a new experiment in government and formulated a hallowed path for our nation; it was a movement which also embraced the high ideals of the English Magna Carta. All of these traditions helped to inform and inspire our three documents of Freedom: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and even later Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights, which are foundations to our representative democracy and our Constitutional Democratic Republic.
We are America. Dr. King was America and we come here today as Americans to remember, to celebrate, to act which is a day on and not a day off. We are here to honor and celebrate this citizen soldier.
In Keeping with Our Theme Today My First observation is that Dr. King as a Student of American History Reaffirmed the Power of Recall and Re-memberance in Formulating the Central Tenets and Basic foundations of the Civil Rights Movement.
Starting out as an economic boycott of the city buses in Montgomery Alabama, it was designed to give African Americans the right to sit on the front seats of city buses rather than on back seats of the buses, and sought to create economic and racial justice for black Americans in Montgomery, Alabama.
But this movement did not just come out of nowhere. It was borne of centuries of hopes and dreams, of blood, sweat and tears of many who had gone on before working and fighting for freedom from the days of slavery, through a system of Jim Crow segregation through other eras of our nation’s history.
The Montgomery Boycott was also a byproduct or offspring if you will of other previous movements for freedom in America going back to the War of Independence from the British where the likes of Crispus Attucks and other black, white and native soldiers stood their ground braving indignity and insult but holding high the flag in the thick and heat of bloody conflicts at Lexington and Concord, Chelsea Creek, Harlem Heights and the first and second Battles of Trenton to name a few as well as other wars for freedom from tyranny ever since into the modern era. It was movement whose core values were also drawn from the three great documents of Freedom.
Dr. King was well aware of how America was a great nation, and remembered and recalled the promises of freedom held out for all Americans in those documents, but had not yet been realized for America’s darker children.
Remembering means knowing our history which matters- who we are and where we come from, where we are going and how we will get there, what we believe, what we can achieve and what we stand on.
King realized that America was essentially a nation of destiny; a people of promise and hope and he also understood that the American project of freedom had not been completely finished, it also had not been completely abandoned by black and other Americans; that more roads had to be traveled, more challenges had to be overcome, more objectives had to be realized. But it was Dr. King’s and his other leaders and followers power of remembering those promises, the power of remembering those high ideals in one of the world’s only living, participatory democracies that gave the Civil Rights movement and its work a moral legitimacy, a constitutional authority; a historical foundation; a legal framework from which to advocate for freedom in the South from a debilitating system of segregation.
The power of remembrance is so effusive and effective. For when we recall our history and our past; and we recall and remember the sacred principles and higher ideals of our organizing and governing as a nation; when we remember the larger vision for which America was founded and developed; and the promises it has made and continues to make to all her citizens, it tells us that we are not finished; that the quest for freedom and strengthening America have not been diminished. Dr. King realized that the promissory note symbolized by the “check” of freedom had too many times been stamped and returned with the words, “insufficient funds” for African Americans.
It was the power of remembering the dreams and promises of a greater nation which promised greater days for all her people; remembering not only mentally with the mind, but re-membering in other ways. The power of re-membering for King was not just in the power of the mind’s memory, but now would compel him and others to re-member; to re-connect; to re-attach those parts of people of the American body politic which had been cut off and amputated from full freedom.
Re-membering is not only an act of memorizing, recalling and recounting the past with our hearts and minds, recalling our history of service and sacrifice, but is a decisive act and intentional act to re-include, to re-attach; to reconnect; to re-link and re-join those segments of the American body politic which have been cut off from the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, freedom, justice and equality.
It is re-membering that is not only recalling and reaffirming our past and its present promises, but acting to include those in our nation who have been dis-membered from full freedom and equality. Each time we seek to include others and widen our circle of concern we are re-membering them. This is true not only in our public but also in our private lives.
For example, when black people in the south had been cut off from voting rights in a system of segregation, the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 under the leadership of President Lyndon Baines Johnson were efforts to restore to them rights which had been gradually and intentionally stripped away. Through poll taxes and other forms of voter suppression blacks were cut off and cut out of the ability to cast votes for their candidates of choice. The freedom to vote was taken away from them which means they were eliminated from the ability to exercise their rights and full freedoms as citizens of America. Their vote had been marginalized and disenfranchised.
Another example may be appropriate at this time. There are some here today who may be alienated or dislocated from family members or even coworkers in community. Time and the demands of life can distance us from each other and those we love. Such persons are still members of our family but we are no longer in contact, connection or in community with them, and so now we must re-member them not only in our minds to locate where they now are but also in our actions as we seek them out, as we reach out to them and go back to re-establish active connections with them in community that they and we might be made whole and well and in true community again.
It’s the same principle of remembering for Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. That movement was designed to re-insert and reconnect black people who had been dismembered from full freedom; people cut off from their basic rights. They were people who had been forgotten about; people whose dreams and promises were wrongfully stolen from them and so the Civil Rights movement made every effort to include them back into the promises and hopes of America by enabling them to vote.
Too often we forget our nation’s history, her legacy and her promises. Too often we forget the blessings of hard work, the value of true community; the power of working together to make the nation and our communities and our families and our associations better for all.
The march of time distances us from remembering, both in mind and in action; it distances us from the greater vision and purposes for which we have been called as a nation and as individuals.
Dr. King embodied the value of re-membering both as memory recall of our important history and its promises of liberty and justice for all but also in engaged and intentional action and activism by restoring, reinserting and reconnecting African Americans who had been cut off and amputated from the American dream and promises through the social and economic system of segregation, cut off from full rights and freedoms that they could be re-included back into the larger family of all Americans.
In honoring his legacy today each of us must work to bring into the circle those who have been left out; those who have been overlooked, those who have been alienated; dislocated and marginalized. It is working to realize what Dr. King called the beloved community, where every man, woman, boy and girl has an opportunity to realize his or her greatest potential; to thrive, to learn and to grow; to spread his or her wings like Eagles and soar proudly, celestially and greatly.
It means renewing and rejuvenating the American spirit not only for liberty but for progress for all, for when everybody does better, everybody does better, not just a select few but all. Dr. King realized that love was the great equalizer. He believed that love on the individual level could be compensated by justice on the social level.
The Power of remembrance is the power to recall those still needing to be reconnected and revalued in community, but it also means working to ensure that those who are left out of the dream are reconnected and rejoined with it; those who need a helping hand receive at times a hand out but mostly a hand up. This is American and is part of what makes America great.
The great Booker T. Washington once said “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength. One is by pushing down and the other is by pulling up.”
That beautiful poem by Edwin Markham might help here:
He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him in.
My Second Observation is that Dr. King Understood the Value and Power of Celebration and Used it as Momentum to Keep Fighting the Good Fight!
I think it was Cool and The Gang who wrote that song “Celebrate, Celebrate. Life should also be a celebration of our blessings and gifts and a call to share them with others in need of them.
In working and dealing with life’s problems and the many challenges in our nation, which have multiplied greatly since the last Presidential Election, it is easy to become sullen and disillusioned; easy to become addicted and afflicted by all the things that are going wrong or are not right in our still beloved country.
But despite the experience of struggle, Dr. King always had an air of optimism and hope and faith in carrying out the work of freedom. He believed in his heart that America could do better and would do better. Working for freedom and justice would be demanding and grueling work, work that would take its toll on the human body. But every chance he and the people of the movement had to celebrate victories and accomplishments they took those moments. But those times were also followed by reengaging the work and getting back to rolling up their sleeves and beginning again with the work.
Many people take the King holiday off and do such things as go shopping but the day should be set aside to get about the work for which he stood, lived and died; we must do the work he did to make our nation better and not sit idly by. “When we should be standing on his promises we don’t need to be sitting on the premises.”
Dr. King reminded us that however mountainous and impossible our goals and dreams appear at the time, we must never allow the darkness to snuff out the light; never allow defeat to overtake disappointment; and in the words of Winston Churchill, “We must never, ever, ever give up.” Never give into despair and hopelessness. Never fall into a mindset that says that we no longer have to give our best or make our greatest efforts to make America greater again. We must never become so despondent, so defeated or so despairing of our country, of ourselves, of our families or of our future, and its people that we lower our expectations of our nation or of ourselves or of others. We must never put an expiration date on our dreams and never lower our hopes and give up our heroic striving to make our nation better. We must never stoop to the lowest common denominator so that we give up all hope of every rising, learning, growing and serving the causes of freedom so that we give up on America or that we squander our potential or we waver from our causes. No! Dr. King never ever would fall into the trap that everything that we have done, that everything we will ever do for those causes greater than ourselves are in the end not worth doing.
We should still celebrate his life’s work and celebrate America.
In the words of the late President of the University of Chicago, Robert Maynard Hutchens who said, “America is not a perfect place but is still the best nation on earth.” Why?
“Through discipline and hard work, an individual can prosper and enjoy freedom unknown to 99.9% of humans who’ve ever lived.
The individual is free to pursue any dream or ambition, and all this is because we have economic freedom supported by a governing structure that exists according to the consent of the governed. The government works for us – if we are diligent enough to hold it accountable.
Ours is the most diverse and inclusive culture on earth.
America is great because Americans are kind.
America is great because we are a nation of dreamers, inventors, artists, givers, builders, truck drivers, cooks, musicians, soldiers, sailors and doers. We exalt in achievement, rebound from failure and encourage one another every step of the way, from the little league, to the majors, in every walk of life.”
After the success of the Birmingham campaign the movement went to Albany and experienced defeat. There were times in the movement when the people’s spirits were low; when the ghosts of cynicism and defeat hung over them but they would never give in or give up the cause.
When Dr. King sat in a Birmingham Jail there were many of his fellow clergy men who urged him to cease and desist from the movement because it was too disruptive; they urged waiting to fight another day, but King saw what he called the Fierce urgency of Now and would not give up the fight.
So we here today must remember and celebrate the gifts we have been given a nation; the great things we have accomplished and the great distances and opportunities which await us; we must affirm the power of the present as an open door to a greater future and not close off the corridors and doors of hope to some people and open wide the doors to others.
James Brown said, “I don’t want no body to give me nothing. Open up the door and I’ll get it myself.”
We must appreciate our blessings, develop our potential, give everyone a good running start, and not turn in on ourselves or turn our back to ways of the dark ages of our history where the venom of hatred and the rancor of disdain and disregard for people who are different or other be-spoil, defiles and derail us all.
My Third and Final Observation is that Dr. King Was Part of a Movement Designed to Reform and Strengthen Democracy but Now We May Have Moved to a Juncture in our Nation’s History where Democracy Itself May Be Threatened.
There is no substitute for strong, consistent and resilient action.
The work we must now do is not simply remembering, celebrating and acting in ways that will build a stronger, more viable, compassionate, wise, just and equal nation for all, which strengthens democracy and keeps its higher ideals alive, but we may also be faced with losing democracy if we take it for granted; if we do not work to preserve and save it. This can sadly happen if we do not shore it up; if we do not keep it up with strong defenses and systems of accountability for leaders representing us. Too much is at stake.
The alleged cyber hacking into the past presidential elections by Russians is one simple case in point. We must never take for granted the power and value of freedom which is our highest ideal. We must never underestimate the rivals and enemies of freedom and democracy both outside and inside that would gladly abort this great experiment in freedom. Freedom is not free and as Thomas Jefferson said the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
Someone else said “our liberty cannot be taken away unless the people themselves are accomplices.”
Dr. King worked for freedom, believed in freedom and believed in America. That is why he went all the way for it, gave his all that we might have all. He gave with full devotion in the words of Lincoln, his last full measure of devotion that this nation might live. Preserving democracy is hard work. We must keep to the work. No days off. Just keep to the work, for too much is at stake now.
What could be more important than preserving our right to vote? When that right is threatened, suppressed or taken away then the very essence of democracy is at stake. If voting is the breath of democracy then those who suppress it seek to take not only our own breath away but the breath of this living democracy called America.
We must not take America for granted. We must not lose our democracy. We must not bow to those tyrannies which threaten to take it all away and strip us of the very freedoms which make America what it is and still can be and this means being vigilant against those adversaries internal or external, foreign or domestic.
The Civil Rights movement was a reform movement for rights and freedoms for African Americans in America and later for all Americans and then became a freedom movement worldwide; it was not a movement that sought to dismantle or destroy democracy or our government but was designed to make it better, it was made of the same brick and mortar; cut and quarried from the same stones of freedom and justice. It was designed to make stumbling blocks into stepping stones for freedom; designed revise and strengthen our nation for all; to call it to account; to give it more freedom so it could continue to flourish and prosper and grow for all citizens so that it would live up to its promises and still realize its true potential.
King never had a mind to attack and destroy the institutions of democracy of this nation but to challenge them to be true to their words. He so revered them that their help was enlisted to help America live up to and not live down to her legacies of freedom.
Now we are faced with forces that may be determined to do exactly the opposite by putting democracy and our republic on life support so that they may pull the cords and kill it off completely.
So after all the prayers have been prayed; all the sacrifices have been made, all the shots have been fired; after all the lives that have been lost; after all the wars that have been fought, after all the blood that has been shed, all the tears that have been bred, all the fields that have been plowed; all the crops that have been sowed; all the mouths have been fed; all the inventions that have been made; after all the horizons in science, business, medicine and in aero-space and in industry have been realized and conquered; after all the hopes that have been dashed; all the meetings that have been had; all the documents have been written; all the battles and debates on freedom, justice democracy and equality have been waged; after all the promises that have been made, and after all the lives that have been saved; all the legislation that has been passed, we must never, ever, ever lose or forfeit our country; we must never ever lose or forfeit our freedoms, we must never, ever, ever give up or give in to those forces that would compel us to give up our country.
And that is why we must keep to the work of not losing our nation; not losing our freedoms; not our losing our liberties, not losing justice and not losing the greater vision of a brighter tomorrow and all the other higher principles upon which we stand.
For your freedom and mine cannot be separated.
Let us keep to the work that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and countless others have given to make our lives better.
So let freedom Ring. Let freedom ring. Let it always ring. God bless you all and God bless America!