Republicans praise him even as they work relentlessly to dismantle the social safety net. Their Martin is just a source of noble sentiments, safely emasculated and safely dead. But he did not get a national holiday and a national monument by being safe. He had to connect, yes, and his brilliance as an orator was evident the moment he stepped into the pulpit of Holt Street Baptist Church for a mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association on Dec. 5, 1955 to launch a bus boycott.
But key to his power and greatness was his challenge to the nation, evident in these words from that speech, which many in power took as a threat worth killing over. Only by taking up that challenge do we properly honor him.
My friends, I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city.
And we are not wrong; we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Imagine being that brilliant at age 26. It never ceases to provoke awe.