Maintaining the Dream: The Reality of Freedom

  • Published
  • By Ch. Lt. Col. William Cooper
The year 2018 marks the 70th since Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. entered the nearby Crozer Theological Seminary. A young Martin Luther King, Jr. enrolled at Crozer in 1948 and graduated in 1951 with a doctorate degree. Over the course of just a few years, King not only gained valuable academic training, but through his work within religious organizations and living in the Philadelphia area, he also learned about the lives and struggles of some of the men and women of the northern United States. Shortly after graduating, he became the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a civil rights event that began in Alabama and that many suggest was one of the single most important of the modern day American Civil Rights movement. Dr. King’s years spent at Crozer and his work in Alabama may have directly contributed to both his efforts to lead the March on Washington and the captivating “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

The year 2018 also marks the 50th anniversary since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was in Memphis to lead a protest march for striking sanitation workers. There were actually two marches. The first march was marred by violence and Dr. King vowed to return to Memphis to lead the march again. It was his determination to be peaceful at all times during such events that prompted his return in April of 1968. Some historians have said that Dr. King did this against the wishes of his most trusted advisors and close family.

In January of 2008, I was on active duty at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. Reverend Samuel “Billy” Kyles, a friend of Dr. King and the organizer of the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s March, provided the keynote address for the base MLK Commemoration Service. Reverend Kyles discussed many details in his address to over 100 military personnel and family members. He talked about his friendship with Dr. King and that the two men held similar views on religion and social causes. Reverend Kyles also discussed how he and Dr. King engaged in discussions about family and shared small talk. He even challenged the audience to follow their dreams in the spirit of remembering Dr. King’s legacy. However, what I remember most from Reverend Kyles’ message is how he described Dr. King’s commitment and unwavering determination to engage in peaceful protest. Dr. King did not approve of negative approaches to gaining rights and freedom; he was troubled by what first happened in Memphis. Whereas Dr. King could have easily avoided returning to Memphis, he returned to ensure that a positive tone prevailed. Reverend Kyles called himself a witness to Dr. King’s assassination, but to me he was also a witness to Dr. King’s courage, selflessness and integrity.

One might say that Dr. King’s actions to display courage, selflessness and integrity in the face of danger and negativism, were just as important if not more important than his poetic and mesmerizing speeches. This is my opinion and I say this because today the dream that Dr. King once had, has arguably come true. In 2018, many people experience freedom in ways that many others could only dream of 50 years ago. In addition, since Dr. King is no longer here, it is now important for each one of us to maintain the dream as one of the realities of freedom.

I have always admired Dr. King’s great speeches. I was a resident of the MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia, near his birth home and the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change from 1998 to 2003. While living there, I learned that Dr. King indeed displayed tremendous courage throughout his short life. He was a man of faith and he chose to put his faith into action. Although he could have found a relative comfort zone and remained quiet, he chose to share a dream that encompassed all people. Because of his selfless example, many men and women devoted their own lives to maintaining the dream. Perhaps all Americans might reflect on at least one thing that can be done in 2018 to maintain the dream.

Dr. King is quoted in his text “Stride Toward Freedom” as saying that, “God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men, and brown men, and yellow men; God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.” The quote implies that the great Creator understands all human beings. However, if this quote is to have value now, I believe that in 2018 and beyond we might reflect on Dr. King’s own applied emphasis on being selfless, courageous and having integrity in service. He was determined to do things right and to inspire great things. We might further see that maintaining the dream involves accepting responsibility as relates to the attitudes, behaviors and ideals that we project. I must remind myself that freedom comes with a cost; that I must pay each day. I should be determined not so much to be perfect, but to espouse a positive attitude, appropriate behavior and acceptable ideals. Maintaining the dream and the reality of freedom is that there is always work to be done because there are many different perspectives and ways of interpretation in the world today. Of course, no one is perfect and as Dr. King once said in reference to moving ahead, “First, the line of progress is never straight. For a period a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as though you were moving backwards, and you lose sight of your goal; but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again, closer by.”