Martin Luther King’s life had been in danger since he was in his 20s, but after April of 1967, he did something that caused the threat level on his life to increase. Public opinion turned sharply against King at this point. Some of his closest supporters turned against him. His fellow Civil Rights leaders said, “We need to keep the focus on our people.” But King was trying to get them to see that all people are our people.
So what did Dr. King do that turned the public, and even some of his friends, against him? He shifted his focus from Civil Rights and he began to campaign for Human Rights.
Civil Rights are for citizens.
Human rights are for humans.
We are all human.
Nobody here wants lawlessness. If there’s anyone here who is bothered that laws are being broken, I understand. People don’t always agree. I beg you to please keep in mind, though, that even lawbreakers don’t deserve to be insulted. They are human. Even prisoners have rights … because they, too, are human.
We all have enough trouble in life. Do we really need to insult anyone? We all have wounds. Do we really need to rub salt in anyone’s wounds? Can we try to understand the sorrows that people endure just for being born? We don’t know how hard someone else’s life is. I know I can be insensitive. Sometimes I feel sad because I have not always understood the pains my own wife was experiencing, or the challenges and fears my children were facing. We all need one another.
Martin Luther King said, and it applies here, “…many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is inextricably tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”
Dr. King broke segregation laws because they violated higher laws. The higher laws he spoke about had nothing to do with the United Nations Declaration — King was talking about the law of God.
Many of you are Christians. I hope to reason with you: As a young child, Jesus’s parents, Joseph and Mary, fled violence in their homeland into Egypt … what if they had been turned away at the border? Don’t forget that Jesus was human. Let’s love all people as our people.
Dr. King broke laws and, yes, he said he was willing to pay the price for violating those laws in order to call attention to injustice, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Dr. King was a man of love, and he was concerned about all our rights.
What the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights tells us is that you only need one qualification to have rights: be human.
You can be disabled. You can be poor. You can be mentally ill. You can be Muslim. You can even be a white, heterosexual, Protestant, American citizen. We all have rights. As humans we must love one another.
The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights has 30 Articles. I just want to share three.
Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Article 2: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.” Article 6: “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.”
This is why Dr. King died: for human rights. One year to the day after he came out for human rights, on April 4, 1968 — he was murdered. But Dr. King lives on. Four years before he declared his commitment to human rights, he encouraged the nation and inspired the world with his “I Have a Dream” speech. Here’s an excerpt: “As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.”
That last sentence is personal for me. My parents were born in the South and moved to California. When I was three and my sister was one, they loaded up their Buick to take us to North Carolina. In those days you couldn’t find a hotel if you were black. Daddy did most of the driving, but he got too sleepy, and so Mommy took the wheel. Somewhere in Arkansas she fell asleep and crashed into a ditch. I remember the blood on their faces as Daddy pulled me through a window of the overturned vehicle.
We talk of segregated schools and towns. What people don’t think about is that hospitals were segregated. The ambulance took us to a bed and breakfast operated by an African-American woman. My dad tells me that she was kind and refused to charge him. We were born in the USA. We were citizens, but were seen as illegal in hotels and hospitals. We committed no crimes. Illegal.
I close with a few more of Dr. King’s words.
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”
“I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all the flesh shall see it together.”
David Moore is a 1976 UCSB alumnus and he wants you to keep dreaming, people.