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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"I Have a Dream", a Call for National Repentance

Next Monday is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday.  We will have a parade downtown, in which I plan to participate.

My junior class will be doing an analysis of King's speech. Today we watched the complete speech in class. For some of my students, more than I expected, this was the first time they had heard the speech in its entirety.

We will proceed to look at the key words, the vocabulary, the figures of speech, and the language and tone of the speech.  I hope by the time my students get through with this unit, they will have a new appreciation for how King communicated his sermon of hope and call to action.

I see the speech as a sermon in the evangelical tradition that calls for repentance, in this case a national repentance for the sin of prejudice and injustice that grows out of America's Original Sin of slavery.

The sermon first gives the bad news of the wrongs of the past and present.
But one hundred years later [after the Emancipation Proclamation], we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
But then the nation is offered the hope of repentance and salvation.
 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 rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
This is followed by the urgency of action. Now is the time of salvation.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.
Then there is the vision of the future if action is taken now, the hope of glory.
 I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. 

So just as individuals are called to repent of their personal sins, King calls for all of America to repent its social sin of injustice and embrace the new kingdom of justice and righteousness.

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