A tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday, I spend some time with his speeches. Dr. King's birthday is a few days before mine, and this year I turned 39 - the same age that Dr. King was when he was assassinated. It made me wonder what further words of conscience he might have offered had he lived longer - and what I would leave for the world if I were to die so young.
I've never felt more fear or uncertainty about the way we communicate with each other and what that means for our future than I have these past few months, and I find myself increasingly drawn to Dr. King's message of compassion, and inclusiveness, and social and economic equality for everyone. His words have been a great comfort to me during this unsettling period, and my new composition for piano and string quartet is inspired by Dr. King's singular faith in our capacity to love, and to do better.
The title of the suite, Some Not Too Distant Tomorrow, comes from a passage in Dr. King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, which he wrote during a period of solitary confinement in the Alabama prison. The letter is an exquisite statement about the dire urgency of achieving social and economic justice, and about the moral and practical implications of nonviolence as the means of getting there. It's also a searing indictment of those who advocated for the status quo in the face of horrible injustice. And it's a moving plea for understanding, and mutual respect.
I hope the music conveys the profound impact his words have had on me.
1. The Fierce Urgency of Now
"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."
-from MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech
delivered August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
2. The Road Ahead
"And I must confess, my friends, that the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. And there will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again, with tear-drenched eyes, have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. But difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future."
-from Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
published in 1967
3. Into the Hearts of Humanity
"And here was a man of nonviolence [Gandhi], falling at the hand of a man of violence. Here was a man of love falling at the hands of a man of hate. This seems the way of history... And the man who shot Gandhi only shot him into the hearts of humanity. And just as when Abraham Lincoln was shot - mark you, for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi was shot, that is, the attempt to heal the wounds of a divided nation - when the great leader Abraham Lincoln was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by the body of this leader and said, "Now he belongs to the ages." And that same thing can be said about Mahatma Gandhi now. He belongs to the ages, and he belongs especially to this age, an age drifting once more to its doom. And he has revealed to us that we must learn to go another way."
-from MLK's Palm Sunday sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi
delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on March 22, 1959
4. Only When It Is Dark Enough, Can You See the Stars
"The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around... But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars."
-from MLK's "I've Been To The Mountaintop" speech
delivered April 3, 1968 at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple Church in Memphis, TN
5. Some Not Too Distant Tomorrow
"Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."
-from Letter From Birmingham Jail
published in Why We Can't Wait in 1963