Morris Dees, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the biblical prophet Amos

I caught a Morris Dees speech on “The Research Channel” this morning, and I loved the way he lead into and the way he told the story of the prophet Amos. The speech I saw was from Feb 2007 at the University of Michigan. This transcript comes from a 2001 speech at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but it looks like pretty much the same speech. Anyway, here was my favorite part:

[…] The Rev. Martin Luther King […] didn’t lose faith in his spiritual beliefs. He didn’t lose faith in us. All of us. Those that revered him, and those to come. You have to understand that in 1963, there were no guarantees. There had been no 1964 Civil Rights Act. There had been no 1965 Voting Rights Act. Powerful people in Congress from his state, my state and other states blocked those reforms. But Dr. King did not despair. Dr. King had faith. And he went to Washington to express that faith. He stood on the mall with 250,000 people at his feet and millions watching on television, to whom he expressed that faith in all of us. He said that I have a dream that one day in the state of Georgia that the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will sit down around a table of brotherhood.

A lot has happened since Dr. King left us. We have taken three steps forward and two steps back. If Dr. King was here today, he wouldn’t recognize the United States, much less the issues that we face. I think if he was here today, he would still have faith in us to solve the problems that divide us. And if he had given that same speech today, he might say, “I had a dream that one day in the state of Georgia,” but he might add … “on the reservations and in the seats of economic and political and judicial power in this nation, that the sons and daughters of former slaves and the sons and daughters of former slave owners,” and today he might add, “the poor, the powerless, the homeless and those that hold the keys to economic and political and judicial power of this nation might sit down around the table of brotherhood and truly learn to love one another.”

[…] And to look around this nation reminds us that it is this basic idea of justice that sets us apart from other nations of the world. [Dr. King] told about another nation and another time. The year was 900 B.C. The children of Israel, the Jews, had wandered from place to place after being held slaves in Egypt. They finally settled into a town and built a prosperous city near the town of Jerusalem. They built big walls around this city, and inside these walls they built a marketplace. People brought goods from surrounding areas to sell. And people prospered in that town. Those that prospered got nice building lots and built beautiful homes overlooking fertile valleys. They got a school system, a court system, a law enforcement system.

But there was one man who came through those big gates early in the morning from a neighboring village with his crops to sell and was haunted by what he saw. As he pulled his wagon laden with goods, he saw able-bodied men and women at the gates begging for food. … People came by his stall, and he heard grumbling. Grumbling about failures in the court system, and the police, if you didn’t happen to be part of the right group. Today we might call that racial profiling.

He was a man of some reputation and means. So he called for an audience with the leaders. And it was granted. He was concerned that they might not be able to keep their town together. You might know this farmer. He was the prophet Amos. And he went before the leaders of that town, and he said you have to be fair to all people. No matter who they are, you have to be fair. Because if you want to pass the things that you have down here, all the way from China, things that you have in this country, pass that onto your children and your grandchildren and so on, you’ve got to be fair. He left them with the words that Dr. King used so often. He said, “You should not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” […]


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