I owe to Laura Seay’s fine “Texas in Africa” blog the idea of commemorating the day with an except from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The following comes from the sermon on poverty that he delivered on March 31, 1968, four days before his murder, at the National Cathedral in Washington. Although many of the details no longer apply, neither King’s majestic vision nor his broad, muscular strokes in pursuit of its realization have lost any power after more than four decades:
“We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia.
“I remember some years ago Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India. And I never will forget the experience. It was a marvelous experience to meet and talk with the great leaders of India, to meet and talk with and to speak to thousands and thousands of people all over that vast country. These experiences will remain dear to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.
“But I say to you this morning, my friends, there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.
“As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, ‘Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?’ And an answer came: ‘Oh no!’ Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, ‘I know where we can store that food free of charge-in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.’ And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.
“Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. . .”
The full text of Dr. King’s sermon, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” is accessible online at http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_remaining_awake_through_a_great_revolution/.
To conclude as King himself did, on April 3, 1968 at Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”—Don Stoll