Fifty Years Ago Today

Fifty years ago today, I was in fourth grade with Mrs. Bassett, looking forward to Red Sox opening day the following week. I’d become a huge baseball fan the previous summer, as had almost every kid in New England. We’d had Yaz and Tony C and Jim Lonborg and the rest of the ’67 Impossible Dream team to introduce us to the bitch-goddess of Red Sox fandom. After the Sox lost the World Series—their first in 21 years—to the Cards in seven games, I was sure that in ’68 we’d be even better, despite Lonborg’s skiing injury in December. On this, I was wrong.

Fifty years ago today, the weather in Durham was about average—high of 63 degrees, sunny, no rain. I likely wore a jacket to school and left it behind in the afternoon because it was so nice out. This meant I’d be cold tomorrow morning walking in, but it was worth it to travel home feeling the beginnings of spring, especially with baseball season starting in six days.

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed in Memphis. I’ve got nothing more to say, no clever turns of phrase. His death was tragic because his life was heroic. Here are some of his words:

Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.

Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality.

Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.

I came to the conclusion that there is an existential moment in your life when you must decide to speak for yourself; nobody else can speak for you

We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

.Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.

Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.

Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.

 The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

 We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.

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 their character.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.

We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.

Doctor King was not just a prophet to black folks. Doctor King was not just a prophet to poor folks. Doctor King was not just a prophet to anti-war folks.

Doctor King was a prophet to all of us, and his words are worth reading again. Please start over.

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