Fifty years ago Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to an estimated crowd of 250,000 people marked the first time a demonstration of that magnitude was televised to a national audience.
As a Baptist preacher and prophet, King skillfully intertwined the Biblical message into a juggernaut moment and movement that exemplified the approach of Jesus Christ to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Non-violence was King’s centerpiece although the times were full of violence and hatred towards King and the civil rights movement.
The negativity towards the moment was evident as many including the media painted King as a troublemaker. The fear of violence was of paramount concern and even President John F. Kennedy had reservations about the march. It took assurances from King before President Kennedy changed his mind and came out to support the effort.
White supremacy dominated the time and many in the Republican and Democratic party were reluctant to publicly support King’s march on Washington. Although a quarter of the marchers were white, the old foundations of racial prejudice still dominated, particularly in the Southern political parties.
A year later when the Civil Rights Bill passed in 1964 the next year after President Kennedy’s assassination, the Southern block of democrats in the House voted 87-8 against the bill while southern republicans voted 10-0 against. In the Senate it was nearly a complete wash against the bill with 20-1 southern senators voting against. The only republican senator from the South voted against the Civil Rights Bill.
Many of the South along with the radical Ku Klux Klan were card carrying members of the Southern Baptist Church, and many blacks became disillusioned with what Malcolm X called “the white man’s religion”. Blacks began migrating from the hypocritical Christian denominations silent during the civil rights struggle and began founding their own churches or began to embrace the Black Muslim movement.
This was the backdrop King labored against while making his stand for civil rights in the South.
The Nation of Islam was gaining a foothold in the civil rights movement with Malcolm X being one of the leading Black Muslims. Due to dissatisfaction with the white establishment in churches, many blacks started abandoning traditional Christian churches and embracing a more radical theology in Islam. More aggressive action using even violence for the civil rights struggle was on the plate. It was going to be Martin Luther King’s way or the way of Malcolm X.
Few people realize what was really at stake regarding the march on Washington. Was the civil rights movement going to go the way of Malcolm X or King? Was the movement going to be directed by the deity of Christ with King, or would the god of Allah prevail with Malcolm X?
This was the spiritual theological struggle taking place along with the issue of civil rights. Imagine what type of America we would have if the Nation of Islam along with the ideology of Malcolm X became the predominate theme of the civil rights movement? Although the Black Muslim faithful risked being kicked out of the nation of Islam, they still were present with King during the March on Washington.
Fortunately not one incident of violence resulted from the March on Washington. The case would have been different if the authorities instigated clashes with the peaceful marchers or racist groups were allowed to interfere. The momentum from the enormous success of the demonstration convinced the more radical groups as the Nation of Islam to back away from their rhetoric.
It was King’s centerpiece of demonstrating the love of Christ, to even love your enemies that made a powerful crusade of the civil rights movement. Make no mistake about this, King’s values as a born again Christian and powerful Baptist preacher was the foundation King clung to.
During the historic speech Martin Luther King said he looked forward to the day when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last,’” were the memorial words that have been finalized in stone by King.
As long as there was bondage to sin, there would be no freedom. There was only freedom in what God established and ordained.