On Monday, January 20 we will again celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., recalling that triumphant and inspiring moment at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, when he raised his voice to the sky: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Behind and above him, Lincoln’s statue oversaw the joys of emancipation, reminding us that the “law” does not protect us in reality from the pains of segregation and the threat of assassination.

    Neither that joyous moment of the March, 1963, “March on Washington”, nor the following year’s Nobel Peace Prize, nor the 1965 Voting Rights Act could prevent that horrifying moment on the hotel balcony in Memphis. That moment the legacy of Dr. King became our legacy! As he noted in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be consid-ered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

    As an educator I know many attach their mission of “social change” to MLK, but we must be careful not to misconstrue that this really is about transformational education and the qualities of personal courage and perseverance that leadership can require! It is not about heavy rhetoric, trumping someone else’s misplayed cards, or a degree at the end of a graduate program—it is about lifestyle change!

    Fortunately, here in Crookston, should you care to explore the vision, efforts to overcome prejudice and injustice, and determination to rise above the floodplain of human weakness in order to rise to the mountain of divine triumph, you have access in the library at UMN Crookston to a marvelous collection of works on and by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Consider the following quotes drafted by Dr. King in his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was incarcerated for leading a non-violent protest:

    “There are three dimensions to any complete life: length, breadth, and height:

    (1) the length of life is the inward concern for one’s own welfare . . . that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions;

    (2) the breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others;

    (3) the height of life is the upward reach for God.”

    To consider Dr. King’s legacy you have to contemplate the limits within which he struggled. He was a pastor, because the only avenue to higher education for a black man in his day was a black seminary. “Public” education was denied, because blacks weren’t included in public! His writ-ings were mostly sermons and lectures within the context of his religious commitment to what we now call “equal justice under the law.” His efforts to bring about that justice he aligned with “bearing the cross” (the reference to his participation and direction of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)

    King personally took on the challenge of living a “complete life” in hopes that his legacy to others would be an understanding of the requirement and the determination to accept that challenge for their own sake and for the sake of others. His metaphors of ascending the mountain and bearing the cross were derived from this challenge. “Reverend” Martin Luther King, Jr. sum-marized his (and our) journey metaphorically thus: “When you get all three of these together, you look up and every valley will be exalted, and every hill and mountain will be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh will see it together. When you get all three of these working together, you will do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When you get all three together, you will recognize that out of one blood God has made all men to dwell upon  the face of the earth. . .”

    King’s own personal journey was made in clear recognition that not everyone agreed with him and, indeed, that reports came daily of threats on the road ahead, especially regarding “the Poor Peoples’ Campaign” and his trip to Memphis. There his destiny awaited and his legacy was se-cured. There also the ignorance and intolerance of his foes was demonstrated. Indeed, most informed persons would acknowledge that legal emancipation has been a veil behind which many hide their plans for violation of those who are “other” than themselves. {On a day when we honor his accomplishment, I will not “honor” those foes with a discussion of so-called white supremacists or po-whites.} That King foresaw his own tragic end can be seen in the following scenario of his “bearing of the cross”:

    “This is the cross that we must bear for the freedom of our people.”

    {October 26, 1960}

    “The cross we bear precedes the crown we wear. To be a Christian one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tension-packed content and carry it until that very cross leaves its mark upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only through suffering.”

    {January 17, 1963}

    “When I took up the cross, I recognized its meaning . . . The cross is something that you bear, and ultimately that you die on.”

    {May 22, 1967}

    Then came the evening of April 11, 1968, on the 2nd floor balcony in Memphis, when the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. died on the cross he was bearing, leaving us with the weight of a reflection on what role we take in regard to the legacy he left us!

    To aide your exploration, I recommend the following:

    • David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian          Leadership Conference

    • Thomas F. Jackson, From Civil Rights to Human Rights

    • Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

    • James M. Washington, ed., A Testiment of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

    James Thomasson is executive director of The Woodside Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Crookston.