By Charles D. Allen
Last weekend, I was privileged to participate in a community event for Peace, Justice, and Unity. Hosted by the Carlisle Area Religious Council (CARC), the virtual multi-denominational event was our celebration of the International Day of Peace. Also officially known as World Peace Day, it is a United Nations-sanctioned holiday observed annually on September 21.
When ask to share words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I not surprisingly found Dr. King had crafted two powerful messages in his acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace, and his Nobel Lecture “The Quest for Peace and Justice,” delivered in Oslo, Norway that December.
Dr. King opened the acceptance speech with:
“I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice.
I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement, which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.”
He proceeded to recount the plight of the American Negro who, in southern states, were under assault by civil authorities and police forces during protest against segregation and for the right to vote. Dr. King also noted an important disparity in the nation saying, “I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.”
King extended his environmental scan beyond the geographical and societal boundaries of the United States to challenges brought about by injustices and conflict across the globe.
As a leader of the American civil rights movement, he posited, “nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts… man must evolve for all human conflict a method, which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
King, being well grounded in faith and in the principles embedded in the founding documents of America -– The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — did not accept the societal behaviors that were contrary to espoused American values.
King unabashedly declared “an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.” Following statements of what he refused to believe about the people of our nation and of humanity, King put forth his vision for a better world:
“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. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still believe that we shall overcome!”
In reflection, Dr. King’s words from a different era in world history still resonate as we collectively face contemporary issues in our nation and across the globe.
News media reports continually bombard us with images and accounts of conflict, disparities and inequities, and divisiveness in the United States.
We see the similar challenges across the world’s nations currently afflicted by pandemic, economic struggles, and internal and regional unrest. While there has been undeniable progress since Dr. King received the 1964 Nobel Prize, the journey to achieve peace, justice, and unity still lies ahead.
I am glad that our Carlisle community has continued along this journey and hope that you will choose to join the movement towards King’s “city of freedom.”
Col. Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, ret) is a professor of leadership and cultural studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. His work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.