Okay, let me admit right off the bat that I can’t swear to the absolute truth of the title; but, I do believe it was one of his favorite rhymes, because he quoted from it in several of his speeches.
The poem is ‘The Present Crisis’ by James Russell Lowell. It was published in 1844, and concerns the growing tensions between North and South over – ‘Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood’.
Dr. King quoted from the poem in the last speech he gave, the night before he was shot down in Memphis, Tennessee. The line quoted was;
“Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne “
I don’t know if it is a sin or a simple shortcoming, but I’m not that interested in the particulars of Dr. Kings achievements in the civil rights movement; I note them and move on. What draws me ,like a moth to the light, is his eloquence. I admire and envy eloquence above all things. Eloquence is the ability to move a thought, a feeling, a concept, from one mind to another intact and complete. I think Martin Luther Kings greatest achievement; without guns or clubs, threats or fists held up in anger; was the shame he felt in his heart that the nation he loved, his home, could allow such a filthy thing as bigotry to exist in its midst, and the sending of that shame, intact and complete into the hearts of those who heard him.
There are a lot of eloquent lines in ‘The Present Crisis’;
“They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.”
“Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just”
‘Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves Of a legendary virtue carved upon our father’s graves”
I cannot claim to speak for anyone but myself, and that hesitantly, ‘for I fear a doubt as wrong’. But if Dr. King had lived to see todays Present Crisis, of people shooting and shouting and threatening each other, I wonder if he might not have spoken to us the last line in the poem;
“Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key”
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