Building the Beloved Community

By Coretta Scott King

In the "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered by my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, he challenged the nation to eliminate racial injustice, and he filled the hearts and souls of freedom-loving Americans with his clarion call to unify America in "a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

It has been a long time since we heard our political leaders talk about brotherhood and sisterhood, hasn't it? Yet, I believe that the full rainbow of humanity has not been tossed on these shores by mere coincidence, but to provide an irresistible demonstration of community for the rest of the world. Our strivings to meet this challenge is the great work of democracy. When this vision of unity is finally fulfilled throughout the nation, then the America of our noblest ideals will become a reality.

And a daunting challenge it is. Despite significant progress in reducing racial justice, racism is still a brutally-destructive force in America. People of color continue to face pervasive discrimination in hiring, compensation, promotion, firing, redlining, funding for education and admission to colleges.

The struggle against racial injustice must continue. But justice requires that we be equally vigilant in protesting against all forms of bigotry, prejudice and discrimination based on religion, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability and other kinds of injustice that degrade the quality of life for millions of citizens.

Brotherhood and sisterhood is not only about group identity, but also respect for diverse political beliefs. This is also a cornerstone of our democracy and a great source of strength for our nation. In this election year, our challenge is to conduct the dialogue of democracy on a high plane of civility, to respect the dignity and personhood of our political adversaries, even as we disagree on issues and matters of policy.

We have learned that no single group can fulfill the Dream by itself. Yet, together we can co-create a society rooted in multicultural brotherhood and sisterhood, in which all citizens can have a fulfilling, productive life.

During the Civil Rights Movement, we welcomed people of all races to join with us in the nonviolent struggle for racial justice. We learned that inclusiveness was not just a political goal, but also the way to bring greater justice and unity to America. My husband once said, "We have to be together, before we can learn to live together."

We have also learned that legislative reforms can reduce discrimination, but no laws can change attitudes. To make the great ideals of brotherhood and sisterhood a reality, we have to create a revolution in the heart.

My husband frequently used the term "the beloved community" to describe the kind of society, in which every person was valued and where all conflicts could be reconciled in a spirit of goodwill and mutual benefit. We are still struggling to make America a beloved community, where all of us can live together in a climate of understanding, cooperation and unity

We have to do a lot more consciousness -raising to build the great coalition of all races and cultures needed to make his dream a reality. We must work together with an energetic determination to build new bridges of understanding and trust, cooperation and goodwill between our communities. Everyone can make this important contribution to fulfilling the dream.

We can also help by increasing support for educational programs that teach respect for different races, religions and cultures to young people. We must develop new and more creative ways to better educate all children and inoculate them against the toxic viruses of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-semitism, xenophobia and all forms of bigotry.

In his 1967 book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?" Martin wrote "In the final analysis, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional," he said. "Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies...This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all."

With this commitment, the 21st century can herald a new age of hope and harmony for our troubled world. May we, the people of all races, religions and nations, have the vision and courage to create the global community of caring and compassion, where all people can live together in peace and justice.

© Coretta Scott King
January 22, 2004

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