the contemporary woke culture, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. loved America and
respected her founders. In his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, he clearly
rooted his dream for racial equality in the original dream of America’s
founders, declaring, “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in
the American dream.”
Dr. King also understood
the colorblind nature of America’s founding documents and in this same speech
he challenged America, not to dispense with her founding documents, but to live
up to them. He said,
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of
Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every
American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men
as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" (Hyatt, Abolitionist Founding Fathers, 54).
Then quoting from the
Declaration of Independence, he proclaimed,
I have a dream that one day
this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal” (Hyatt, Abolitionist Founding
Writing from the Birmingham
City Jail in 1963, Dr. King referred to America’s “sacred heritage.” He
was very aware of America’s flawed and sinful history, but he also saw
that there was something sacred, holy, and of God in her founding.
He considered the racial injustice against which he was fighting in the 1960s to be out of
character with the vision of America’s founders. Indeed, in this same letter he
speaks with pride and respect of the Pilgrims, Thomas Jefferson, the ‘majestic”
Declaration of Independence, and Abraham Lincoln.
Dr. King seems aware that at a time when slavery was accepted and practiced in Africa, Asia,
the Middle East, and most of the world, there was a unique movement against it in 18th century Colonial America. Even those founders who
were slaveholders took a public stand against it and agreed with John
Adams, who wrote,
Every measure of prudence ought to be assumed for the
eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States. I have
throughout my whole life held the practice of slavery in abhorrence (Hyatt, 1726:
The Year that Defined America, 101).
black scholar, Dr. Thomas Sowell, was referring to this abolition movement when he wrote,
Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders--and then it was an issue only in Western civilization. Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other American leaders. You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 90).
Indeed, America’s founding
generation understood the words of the Declaration of Independence to be a statement
against slavery. In an early draft of the Declaration in which he laid out the reasons for Independence, Thomas Jefferson accused
the British monarch of introducing slavery into the colonies. He wrote,
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself,
violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a
distant people who never offended him, captivating them and carrying them into
slavery in another hemisphere (Hyatt,
Abolitionist Founding Fathers, 44).
Although the above
statement did not make it to the final draft, the one that did was generally
understood to be an attack on the institution of slavery. Jefferson wrote,
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit
Dr. King obviously understood
this phrase to be both an attack on slavery and an affirmation of racial equality. When someone suggested to him that he
was an “extremist,” he replied,
"Was not Thomas Jefferson an
extremist? – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
Indeed, in the 18th century, when humanity was divided by race, and slavery was practiced
throughout the world, the words of Jefferson were considered “extreme.” When judged in the context of the times in
which they lived, America’s founders were, indeed, revolutionaries on the
cutting edge of human society in advocating for the abolition of slavery and
liberty for all mankind.
This is why Dr. King
loved America and respected her founders.