He Had a Dream:
Dr. King's Apple Trees
Blood on the Leaves: Communal Evil in a Troubled World
Getting Over American Triumphalism: The Slavery System
Can White People Grow Up? Thoughts on Racism in America
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand
today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of
segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material
prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we
have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and
the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes,
black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred
obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the
time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will
continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our
rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical
violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed
the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights,
"When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be
satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of
their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and
righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you
have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have
been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be
transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and
nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our
nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every
mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the
mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
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!"
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter to Dr. King
Dear Dr. King,
Like you, we believe in apple trees.
Did you know that when President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, he placed his hand on your travel Bible. I am happy for him and also for you. It makes me feel good that his hands and your hands touched the same book.
For you as for him, I think the Bible is like a farmer's almanac. It's not a perfect book; you don't have to make a god of it. But it's an ongoing conversation parner, filled with great stories and much wisdom, and it can help people plant apple trees. Both of you want to plant an apple tree called "beloved community." It's time for us to pick up our shovels.
I am writing you on behalf of an international community called the JJB community. Some of us are Christians, like you, but some of us are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Confucian, and Naturalist. We are very pluralistic. Like you, we believe that Jesus belongs to everybody, not just to Christians. Remember when you nominated the Buddhist writer, Thich Nhat Hanh, for the Nobel Peace Prize. We like your spirit.
Maybe you would like our spirit, too. At least you'd like our hopes. Often we say that our historical hope is to live up to your dream: that is, to help cultivate beloved communities in the villages and hamlets, the cities and nations, of our world. For us beloved communities need to be ecologically wise and humane in their treatment of animals. You might call them beloved communities with ecology added. We suspect that you would agree.
Anyway, did you see President Obama's inauguration speech? He talked about justice and equality for all Americans but also justice for the world. Certainly your heart was in this place, too. You loved the United States, but when it came to justice, you were a globalist, not a eurocentrist or an American nationalist. You were against the Vietnam war even before it was fashionable to be against it, and late in your life you became pretty critical of global capitalism. We are critical of it, too. Of course this came naturally to you. You were, and still are, a Jesus-follower.
There was good news for the earth at the inauguration ceremony. President Obama said that, in the interests of global justice, we need address issues of global climate change directly and courageously. Here, too, we suspect you would agree. For you today, we know that the globe would be more than the human world. It would be the earth. You know how you liked the work of the Quaker writer, Howard Thurman? He's a hero of ours, too. He had a rather deep sense of earth appreciation. It's all God's creation, and we humans do the world a disservice by pretending that it's ours alone.
For our part, we are shaped by relational thinking. This is thinking that talks about the primacy of love, emphasizing that we human beings are formed in and through loving relationships, just like you. Often you say that your own heart was shaped by early experiences of love in your own family and in the black church. This rings true to us.
A few of us have read your dissertation: ‘‘A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman." You disagreed with both Tillich and Weiman because they lacked a personal understanding of God. You believed that God is a living force, ‘‘responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart; this God both evokes and answers prayer.’’
We are on your side. We are drawn to Whitehead because he offers a way of understanding God's continuing presence in our lives as a loving force and because he speaks of God as sharing in the joys and sufferings of all living beings. For us there really is a God and this God truly hears prayers.
But back to the inauguration. Did you hear the poem by Richard Blanco? He is young, Latino, and openly gay. You always said that, if we act in loving ways, free from hatred and prejudice, we are begining the process of "letting freedom ring." Richard Blanco said that, as we open doors for each other, offering greetings in our native languages, the ringing can be heard.
Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello,
shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días in the language my
mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our
lives without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
When I heard his poem it sent chills up my spine. Oh, Dr. King, I wish you had been at the inauguration.
But maybe you were! Sometimes late at night, when everyone is asleep, and I look up at the stars and imagine you. One time you said that it is only in times of darkness that we can see the stars. Can you see them still?
I'll be honest. I don't know where you are exactly now. Certainly you are here in my memory and that of so many others. But something tells me that your journey continues, even today.
I am a process theologian. I believe these kinds of things. I believe that the God of love is always with us, in this life and in the journey hereafter. Yes, I hope that you are now resting in an oasis of freedom, along with many others in a vast cloud of witnesses.
But something tells me that you will never really rest until the fruits of that oasis are tasted for ordinary folk on our small, finite planet. Not just small tastes, not just nibbles, but enough for everyone to be satisfied.
You were pretty clear on this in your "I Have a Dream Speech." Your dream was that the villages and hamlets of this very world would hear the chimes of freedom and enjoy them.
"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!"
So I need to be honest with you, lest you think everything is all right. We're not yet joining hands. Some people prefer to hold guns than hands, and some are more interested in making money than making music. They don't want to plant apple trees.
You told us that, if this is the case, we need to keep marching to the dream, holding it in our hearts. We need to keep planting apple trees even if the world falls apart.
It sounds a lot like your hero, Gandhi. He said that we should do good in the world but not be overly attached to predictable results. He was a seed planter, like you, and he knew that sometimes, when you plant seeds, they blossom in their own ways and times, not controlled by the planters.
Was it Jesus who said: "Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin, but their beauty surpasses that of even Solomon." Or something like that.
When we think of the apple trees you planted, we think of Jesus. Both of you were killed too early. Both of you believed in beloved community. You shared his faith in a God of love, a God of apple trees.
We do, too. Sleep tight. Sweet dreams, beloved brother. We'll do the planting.