Dr. King once delivered a sermon called "The Drum Major Instinct" which is ripe with parallels to our day.
The politics of destruction, the chutzpah (however you choose to pronounce it) of reality-show presidential candidates, the culture war, imperialism, flattery carrots and fear sticks, the big lies of the perpetual sales job; it's all in there.
You read Vietnam in the transcript but you seemlessly transition to southwest Asia, thirty-five years after.
You get more than an inkling of why tea-partiers (the original, uncoopted ones) and occupy movement folks haven't found solidarity.
He rails against those who wish to claim special credit for closeness with Jesus without letting the test of time, others' remembrances, and Saint Peter decide the matter.
As we celebrate the King holiday, remember that this is the first year of a glorious new memorial along the Tidal Basin.
If you're not moved by it, I challenge that you have a pulse.
I had been there two days before the dedication in October, mentioned in my series here. You're meant to pass through a gap in the same granite rock as the statuary, seen at a long distance in this shot.
We were shepherded a different way because of folding chairs, risers, cables and scaffolding.
Dr. King is just to the right in the above shot and here one reads the first inscription among many. The quote is "Out of the mountain of despair - a stone of hope" from the "I Have a Dream" speech.
On the other side is written “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
Highlights of "The Drum Major Instinct" are:
"And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life."
"There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive ... you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. ... It causes you to lie about who you know sometimes. ...it causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention. ...he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. ... And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct."
"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. ... Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. ...
"I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. ...
"I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. ...
"I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity."
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. ... Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. ...I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say."
I hadn't known that the inscription was meant to include ellipses suggesting conditional mode and then an imperative introductory clause, or that an editor invented an entirely new meaning of the remembrance just by being her or himself.
In the sermon, in its entirety, here, you see better than in any synopsis how he's foreshadowing his own eulogy.
Tearing into that quote to find the right length of words for the inscription, the King Memorial's Council of Historians' web page has it condensed into: “…Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
Then this happened.
You know: immacuwack.
As a Washington Post editorial put it: "Someone, somewhere along the line, made a decision that makes King look like something he was not: an arrogant jerk." Maya Angelou had some choice words along the same lines. At the time, I recall saying aloud "if I do say so myself" and now I know I wasn't the only one.
Whatever the cost, it will help the memorial better fulfill its purpose to make this right as quickly as possible.