One of my favorite speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. was given at the conclusion of the bloody march from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to the state capitol building in Montgomery, the "Cradle of Confederacy." The speech entitled Our God is Marching On, acknowledges that injustice still remains but King still savors this exhilarating victory by pointing out that "We have come a long way since that travesty of justice was perpetrated upon the American mind. We are not about to turn around. We are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us."
This speech is prophetic for the 2009 celebration of Martin Luther King day and the inauguration of Barack Obama at a time when we have made significant progress in matters of race by electing an African American president for the first time. Yet deep seated, structurally-reinforced racial inequality and disparities in income, wealth, credit, health, jobs, education, and opportunity remain.
The significance of Obama's victory is not that the dream has been fulfilled, but that like for the civil rights movement, which included not only a Martin Luther King, Jr. but moved upon the wings of God driven by a diverse mosaic of contributors varying by race, gender, faith, and age group - it is a long-term struggle, but the winds of change are beginning to blow and "We are on the Move Now."
Here is how Our God is Marching On begins:
We have walked on meandering highways and rested our bodies on rocky byways. Some of our faces are burned from the outpourings of the sweltering sun. some have literally slept in the mud. We have been drenched by the rains.
Our bodies are tired, and our feet are somewhat sore, but today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say as Sister Pollard said, a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott and one day she was asked while walking if she wanted a ride and when she answered, "No," the person said, "Well, aren't you tired?" And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, "My feets is tired, but my soul is rested." And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, but our souls are rested.
This is how that Our God is Marching On, so prophetic and appropriate for today, ends: