San Francisco's Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial is situated across the green expanse of the great meadow of Yerba Buena's 5-acre park, tucked behind a fifty-foot high waterfall that tumbles over great slabs of sierra granite. The overwhelming sound of the falling water makes even more powerful Martin Luther King, Jr's words, inscribed at the West entrance: No, No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.'
To enter the memorial is to enter sacred space. Once inside, you are separated from the bustle of the world outside, connected to the gentle and powerful words inscribed on glass and attached to the windowless wall facing the falling water outside. Facing that wall, back to falling water, and encircled by the tremendous sound of that water, there are no distractions, nothing to pull mind and spirit away from his words. Spending time in that cave of wisdom strengthens the spirit, calms the mind and reminds the reader of his or her responsibility to think and act with heart.
As I read the plaques Saturday afternoon, I felt Dr. King's words, as critical to these times as to his times, seep into my bones, flush away the fear, replacing sorrow with a determination to continue to live through kindness and non-violent resistance, building a more hopeful future. I can reproduce here the words etched on some of the plaques, but not the sensation of being alone inside the sound of falling water, feeling those words sifting into my blood. For that, I urge you to go to visit the Memorial at Yerba Buena Gardens.
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are raising up as never before.
from: Beyond Vietnam: a Time to Break Silence
I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education, and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down other-centered men can build up.
from: Nobel Acceptance Speech, 1964
We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
from: When Silence is Betrayal
Through our scientific genius, we have made this world a neighborhood; now through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood. In a real sense, we must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.
from: The American Dream 1961
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.
from: Nobel Acceptance Speech, 1964
That last quotation, excised from Mart Luther King, Jr's speech penned as his formal acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, continues beyond what is etched onto the plaque. What he said after his profound defense of temporary defeat is as potent today, almost fifty years later, as it was then:
I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.
. . . but the power of his words shivers and shakes. . . the sense of immediacy, unsettling rather than comforting. His description of 'mortar bursts and whining bullets' was then a graphic description of battlefields occupied by soldiers in warzones; now those same words seem to describe our city streets where young men shoot other young men in cold blood for no other reason than to establish and maintain 'power'. We have yet to lift wounded justice from this dust of shame.
War has not ended; war is closer and more pervasive than ever, but somehow, even though justice has yet to heal its wounds and blood continues to flow on our streets, we need to open our hearts and find the strength and courage to walk in hope towards that brighter future.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at the times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position and even his life for the welfare of others.
If we occupy our lives, our hearts, our dreams, we can begin to think and act responsibly in ways that will enlarge our world, find a way to the path of peace, following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr., continuing the pilgrimage.
from: Pilgrimage to Nonviolence