Maya Angelou is a living monument. So, it was fitting that, when the Martin Luther King Memorial was dedicated in August 2011, she wrote a poem in his honor. With the 50th anniversary of that historic March on Washington coming up, let’s revisit that poem. Of course, with Angelou, it’s always better if you can find a video of her performing the poem, but there doesn’t seem to be one with clear audio. Consider, though, these lines:
Martin Luther King
Faced the racial
Mountain of segregation and
And bade it move.
The giant mound of human ignorance
And rigid in its determination
Did move, however slightly, however infinitesimally,
It did move.
I will go, I shall go
I’ll see what the end will be.
Lord, don’t move your mountain,
Just give me strength to climb it.
You don’t have to move
That stumbling block,
Lord, just lead me around it.
~ Maya Angelou, ‘Abundant Hope’ from ‘The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
So, despite the ongoing and long drawn-out controversy around the quotation on Memorial, this beautiful poem reminds us why we build memorials and monuments for people long gone and what we owe them. And that we may never give up on our dreams even if we cannot move mountains and have to just get around them to get where we need to.
About that famous Dr King declaration of “I have a dream“: Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey were on Charlie Rose, discussing their new movie, The Butler. Towards the end of the interview, Whitaker talked about this Dr King dream, at the 17-ish minute mark, and how it is being realized even now. How it is still sitting on that Constitutional promissory note about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that Dr King said was promised to all Americans as human rights. And, that the Civil Rights Movement history, which is an all-American history, is a living history because we’re still moving in circles in this journey to get to The Promised Land as Dr King had described it. It hasn’t ended and races of many other hues have joined in too.
We cannot forget what it took for all those earlier generations to accomplish what they did so that our generation can live as we do.