The Drum Major

Tomorrow we will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of us will make time to participate in A Day of Service to honor the man, his life and his death.

Engraved on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Statue is the quote,

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major,
say that I was a drum major for justice,
say that I was a drum major for peace,
I was a drum major for righteousness,
and all the other shallow things will not matter.”

For millions of people around the world, he is The Drum Major. He remains the leader for those who work, struggle and die for peace, righteousness, equality, non-violence, justice.

Probably most of you reading this can recite a quote by him. “I have a dream…..”, “I have decided to stick with love…”

Today I wondered, who inspired Martin Luther King Jr. in the way he inspires us?

In January of 2014, Nathan Raab of Forbes Magazine wrote an article of the 10 people who most influenced Rev. King. They are:

Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish writer and historian during the Victorian era.
William Cullen Bryant, American poet and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post.
James Russell Lowell, one of The Fireside Poets.
John Donne, English poet who wrote around the turn of the 17th century.
Gandhi, led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
Henry David Thoreau, Transcendentalist author.
Leo Tolstoy, Russian author.
Washington Irving, storyteller.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of The Fireside Poets.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist.
And, not listed above, because these two are the most significant source of purpose and inspiration for Martin Luther King Jr as a Baptist minister, son, father, husband and human being, Jesus and The Bible.

In his 1968 speech, A New Sense of Direction, Martin Luther King Jr. said, including a quote from Longfellow,

“….we must begin to turn mankind away from the long and desolate night of violence. May it not be that the new man the world needs is the non-violent man? Longfellow said: “In this world a man must either be an anvil or the hammer.” We must be hammers shaping a new society rather than anvils molded by the old. This not only will make us new men but will give us a new kind of power. It will not be Lord Acton’s image of power that tends to corrupt, the absolute power that corrupts absolutely. It will be power infused with love and justice that will change dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

Longfellow also wrote:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies,
we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering
enough to disarm all hostility.

This is compassion and the awareness of our Common Humanity.

Looking at Tolstoy we all know his colossal novels. He also said,

 “All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.”

“If one loves, one loves the whole person as he or she is,
and not as one might wish them to be.”

We hear the same sentiment in King’s writings,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

In the writings of these people we are given a lens through which to look into the heart and soul of Martin Luther King Jr. We gain a better understanding of how the character of King was formed.

Martin Luther King Jr. ultimately gave his life for what he believed in…that we are not living up to our moral and ethical responsibility until racial equality is no longer an issue, until non-violence replaces violence, until social justice erases oppression, until Light triumphs over Darkness, until Love dispels Hate, until cruelty and indifference is overcome with compassion.

King said “True compassion is more than  flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces a beggar needs restructuring.” 

We, the collective “we” have to find the same kind of courage and strength King found in order to be able to look honestly at ourselves, our country, our weaknesses and failings in both to be able to bring about the restructuring that will have to happen if we will ever have a chance of honoring the life of Martin Luther King Jr in a truly meaningful way. We, the individual “we”, have to find something deep inside ourselves and call it forth with determination and courage. We have to become the Drum Majors leading the way for ourselves and others to become the People, the Country, the World King believed we could create and Be.

We can quote King all we want. We can volunteer on his birthday for the Day of Service. Until we are able to open our eyes and hearts and to look around and see the reason for the beggar sitting in front of us and make changes and restructure our societies, we will live perpetually quoting the dreams of a great man and believing our one day of service is good enough.

Is it enough?

It is time to become the hammers that shape the new society.

Link to Forbes article10 People Who Inspired Martin Luther King Jr.





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