Martin Luther King gave his last Sunday sermon at Washington National Cathedral on March 31, 1968. Some of that sermon is reproduced below, but we urge you to read it all. Read it all and ask yourself how a man who says the kinds of things that Dr. King said would fare in the era of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
Ask yourself whether your church would give a person who talks this way about ending war and poverty a pulpit from which to speak. Ask yourself in the rush to draw false equivalencies between the rhetoric of left and right in the wake of the shooting in Tucson, whether Dr. King wouldn’t be counted among those who views were maybe just a little to passionate to be allowed a platform.
We all like to think that we would have supported the people whom history has proven to be prophets. But there is no such thing as an un-divisive prophet. More than 40 years after his death, many Americans still despise what Dr. King stood for, many others are afraid of giving the offense necessary to achieve his vision, and no one is organizing the destitute to march on Washington.
Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich; Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world—and nothing’s wrong with that—this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect. We are going to bring those who have come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. We are going to bring children and adults and old people, people who have never seen a doctor or a dentist in their lives.
We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.
We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.