A Call To Conscience is the compilation of speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King was born on January 15th 1929 with an elder sister and younger brother. He studied Sociology and then enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. As youngster he was sceptical about Christianity. He did not believe that Jesus could resurrect and had many questions. Slowly he accepted that the Bible had many profound truths and ended up as an American clergy. Slowly he rose to the role of an activist as his inner call was to redeem the Africans from the slavery they had been victimised by for many centuries.
As he was a clergy man his protests were all non-violent and he was greatly influenced by the civil disobedience movement seen in India led by Gandhi. His movement gathered momentum and enemies. Today Africans in America are treated at par with the whites and this is the result of the struggle of Martin Luther King. On April 4th 1968 he was shot and it came a day after the historical speech known as “I have been to the mountain top”. In this speech he tells that he is not really worried that there is a threat to his life. Though he wanted to live long he was not scared, rather he was ready, for God had showed him the Promised Land and the ‘glory of the coming Lord’.
I have A Dream
The speeches that are included in the book are “I have a dream” and “Beyond Vietnam”. “I have a dream” was delivered on August 28th 1963 from the steps of Lincoln Memorial. The occasion was the March on Washington demanding freedom and jobs for the blacks at par with the whites. It is considered as one of the defining moments in the American Civil Right Movement. It is considered as the best speech of the 20th century by public address poll scholars, in 1999.
From that historical platform he reminds the people of the Emancipation Proclamation which was still not effective 100 years after it was signed. He wanted the check on equal rights to be encashed. The government was claiming ‘insufficient funds’ but he does not believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt and his people would get freedom and justice soon. He implores his people not to rest till the Negroes are given the rights of citizenship. At the same time that the protests must not be violent. ‘Physical force’ must be met with ‘soul force’ he said.
Then he goes on to state his dream for the blacks in America and he feels it is not too far away when the whites and blacks will be treated equally. He also feels only when that freedom and justice is given, will America become a powerful country. He wants freedom to ring out from every village, every town, every city and every state in America. This was the sermon like speech which whipped up the revolutionary feeling in not just the blacks, for there were many whites who were sympathetic to this cause.
“Beyond Vietnam’ was another landmark speech by Martin Luther King and it was addressed to the clergy and laymen at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4th 1967. It was his first public address where he gave his opinion about the war. At the very outset he clears that though he was a preacher he was bound to tell his views on Vietnam and he had seven reasons which are put forth so eloquently. The war had brought an abrupt stop all the progressive plans in America especially those impacting the poor. Now all the funds were being diverted for the war and the poor were left in the lurch.
Martin Luther King was sad that while the whites and blacks could not sit beside each other in America, in Vietnam they were fighting alongside in solidarity. He wanted that solidarity back home. The third reason he states is that he cannot instil non violent ways for change because he is met with the question, ’What about Vietnam?’ Wasn’t violence at its worst being used to bring about change? He felt the soul of America was completely killed with the Vietnam war. Then again, being the follower of Jesus, who loved his enemies, how could he hate the communist leaders of Vietnam?
Finally he says his mission is beyond nation and it is the call of God and it certainly encompasses all nation even if it supposedly an enemy nation. A war which was started to liberate the nation went on for decades and millions of people were killed on both the sides. He then takes a powerful voice to condemn the war as Vietnamese family and village were destroyed. In the process many families were destroyed in America too.
Five Point Agenda
Martin Luther King gave a five point program to end the war and bring some peace into both nations. He received a long applause for these five points. The phrase ‘true revolution of values’, is later described by Martin Luther. True revolution of values is to question the fairness and justice of the policies. It also meant at reducing the contrast between the rich and the poor. It should also question about ‘war’ being the way to bring justice. He wanted America to lead the world in this true revolution of values.
In his last speech ‘I have been to the mountain top’ he asks his people to boycott products where the recruitment was prejudiced against the blacks. We see progressively aggressive speeches from Martin Luther King as the years went by but his means of revolting was indeed non-violent. He seems to like the words ‘justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream’, as he uses it often. He was stabbed by a lady quite early in life but he was saved on time. He says he was saved for days where he addressed people on issues close to his heart. In this speech he wanted people to think of the harm that would happen to the sanitation workers if they did not stand in solidarity. His was a life dedicated to the blacks; their freedom and a strong sense of justice.