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Finneran: King’s Dream, 2019

Friday, January 25, 2019


We have just celebrated the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and we now approach Black History Month.

There is much to celebrate and much to learn.

There is also much to mourn.

More than ten years after the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, an election brought about in part by huge numbers of white voters and, until Election Night itself, an event whose outcome remained highly doubtful with many black voters, the nation remains at least partially racially polarized. It seems as if each side of the black/white equation remains skeptical of each other’s hearts and minds.

That America suffers from some degree of racism cannot be disputed. Racism is a toxic part of the human condition and it exists on every continent, in every country, and in every human color and culture. One does not need a current events briefing from State Department experts to discern the realities of brutal racism in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. The demon is not unique to these United States.

Dr. King challenged the racial status quo in America. He spoke powerfully moral words to a nation that seemed largely indifferent to the shameful treatment and plight of fellow Americans. In doing so, he challenged and changed the most powerful country in the world. It is entirely appropriate that his life’s work be celebrated. That work prodded America’s better angels forward. And, that work continues.

I have three favorite works of Dr. King. Two of them hearken back to 1963, a truly formative year in America’s history of race relations and racial justice.

The first occurred in April of 1963 with the beautifully literate and moral “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. I cannot add to its eloquence or its power. It must be read, slowly. Re-read it. Drink it in. It is a tonic to those who thirst for justice.

The second occurred in August of 1963, on the Washington Mall, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. That speech is an amazing example of literature and oratory. Here too, it should be read and re-read. As I believe that the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights should be read by every adult American on July 4th, I also believe that Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and his “I Have a Dream” speech should be read on every King holiday. They are awesome, inspired, and inspiring works.

The third example is a simple quote attributed to Dr. King, one which you might post on your refrigerator:

“Cowardice asks the question—is it safe?

Expedience asks the question—is it politic?

Vanity asks the question—is it popular?

But conscience asks the question—is it right?

And there comes a time when one must take a position which is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right”.

Happy Birthday Dr. King. And thank you.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio.


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