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Black Arts and Culture

It’s Summer Reading Time – Week One: The Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As summer 2015 approaches, now is the perfect time to revisit the writings of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With much of the nation still reflecting on the civil and racial unrest and turmoil after the deaths of several unarmed black men by the police in places like Ferguson, Mo., New York City, North Charleston, S.C., Cleveland, and Baltimore, the wisdom of the civil rights leader written some 50 years ago may offer some food for thought for today’s activists.

The writing that follows comes from the King Institute files and can be accessed online at https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/knock-midnight-sermon-delivered-installation-service-ralph-abernathy-west

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(Excerpts)

Midnight Sermon By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is midnight in this parable, but I would like to remind you this afternoon, my friends, that it is also midnight in our world today.

At points we are experiencing a darkness so deep that we hardly know which way to turn … Whenever I’m in town, I can hardly find enough hours in the day to counsel with people who are confronting problems. Psychopathic wards of our hospitals today are filled. People are haunted by day and plagued by night with crippling anxieties and paralyzing fears.

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It’s midnight in the psychological order. What are the popular books in psychology today? Man against Himself, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, Modern Man in Search of a Soul. What are the popular books in religion today? Peace of Mind (Make it plain), Peace of Soul.3 And who are the popular preachers today? Preachers who can preach nice little sermons on how to relax and how to be happy. And so we have retranslated the gospel to read, “Go ye into all the world, and keep your blood pressure down, and, lo, I will make you a well-adjusted personality.”4 [laughter] All of this is indicative of the fact that it is midnight (Yes) in the psychological order.

It is midnight in the social order, midnight in the psychological order, midnight in the moral order.

Men and women today are seeking three loaves, not physical bread but spiritual bread.9 (Yes, Yes, Yes) Men are seeking the bread of faith. (Yes) Points so many people have lost faith in themselves, faith in their neighbors, faith in God. And in the midst of this, they are reaching out for the bread of faith. They want the bread of hope. Young people want this; old people want this.

Oh, [laughter] we are hovered up today in big cities in mass populations, and so often we live in systems that are oppressive and discriminatory. They take from us our sense of personhood and our sense of selfhood, and so many people feel that they don’t count, that they don’t belong. (My God).

Don’t you worry, my friends. (Amen) It may be dark, but daybreak is coming. (That’s right) Darker yet may be the night, right may often yield to might, but if you are right, God will fight your battles.30 (Yes) [laughter] (Yeah) Don’t worry tonight; (That’s right) don’t worry this afternoon. (That’s right) Midnight is not here to stay.(Yes sir) “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—/Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, /Standeth God within (Yes) the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

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