Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
“Always Fight with Love.” “Loving Your Enemies.” “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” “I Have a Dream.” “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”
These are the titles of five of many speeches given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. between 1955 and 1968 when he was one of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights movement.
These speeches served as the basis for Joana Scholtz’s speech during the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance luncheon Jan. 16 at the Frontier Conference Center.
Scholtz is the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Leavenworth Branch, which was reactivated in February 2019 after being dormant for 20 years.
“The theme of (King’s) speeches were Christianity, humanity, love, peace, justice and equal rights,” Scholtz said.
King’s speech “Always Fight with Love” was one of his first speeches given in 1955 after the launch of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Scholtz said.
“Dr. King was thrust into the forefront to lead this boycott,” Scholtz said. “He realized that in order to make this boycott work and to get people to commit to a non-violent campaign against legal segregation in the south, he is going to have to do something powerful. To do that, he decided that he would use people’s faith.
“He felt that if the movement was grounded in peace and love, we would have a better outcome,” she said.
Quoting King’s speech, Scholtz read, “‘Let us fight unrelentingly for justice, but let our hands be clean. Let us now fight with falsehood, hate or malice. Always fight with love so that when the day comes and segregation completely crumples, we will be able to live with our sisters and brothers.’”
King’s speech “Loving Your Enemies” was given Nov. 17, 1957, in Atlanta, Ga.
“‘Love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe,’” Scholtz quoted. “‘I say to you, I love you. I would rather die than hate you.”
Scholtz said, in this speech and his other “loving” speeches given between 1955 to 1957, King was expanding on the Gospel of Matthew to help his followers move into broader social issues.
“In the south, the issues were very prominent. They were legal issues. (King) said we have to fight in the courts, but we also have to find a way to bring focus to these ills in our society,” Scholtz said. “So, Dr. King talked about his love. Love is being Christ-like and that it was the way to transform his enemies from their hatred.
“He wanted his followers to commit to social change, and he wanted that based so much on their love for each other and their love for humanity that they were going to endure the violence without fighting back because he felt that if the struggle turned violent, people would never see the ills that existed in our society,” she said. “Violence would retract from what he was trying to achieve.”
King first wrote the 20-page “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” on April 16, 1963, in response to eight white clergy of Alabama who criticized him for participating in civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Scholtz said. King later used it as a speech.
“He wanted to defend his non-violent protest strategies,” Scholtz said.
“Dr. King explained to the clergymen, ‘I was invited because injustice is here, in what is the most racially divided city in America with police brutality, unjust courts and many unsolved bombings of negros homes and churches,’” she quoted.
King gave his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream” on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“In that speech, he called for the end of racism in front of a quarter of a million people and news cameras around the world,” Scholtz said. “He gave that speech because he explained that it was 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and blacks were still not free, nor were they given the rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence.
“He wanted to give people hope. He felt that is was the time to really unite the country because now the south was making changes,” she said. “They were actually passing and following federal laws, but he wanted people to know that their fight had made a difference.”
Scholtz said King’s “I Have A Dream” speech sparked a dream in her when she heard it.
“It is a dream that I’ve lived out all my life, which is to live treating each man equally and respecting always the rights of everyone,” she said.
King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” was given on April 3, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. — one day before his assassination.
“He was working with the Memphis sanitation workers who were striking over low pay and poor working conditions,” Scholtz said. “During that time, he had received numerous death threats that if he came to Memphis he was going to die.
“Yet, this man still went. He went for the workers. He went to fight for what was right,” she said. “At this time, he is changing the focus of the Civil Rights Movement. He is moving from the south where they fought the legal segregation to now turning his attention to the north to Chicago and New York and other places where the racisms and the policies were much more subtle, and he was getting into worker’s rights issues. … Now he was talking economics and people were fearful.”
Scholtz said that in the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech,” King wanted workers to stand strong together and never stop fighting for equality.
“‘I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place, but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountaintop,’” Scholtz quoted. “‘I have looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’
“Many people believe that he foretold of his own death that night,” Scholtz said. “Two months before he died in his last service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. King talked about his death. He said, ‘I want you to say on that day, I did try in my life to love and serve humanity.’ That’s how he wanted to be eulogized, and so we celebrate this day, we honor him and we continue to eulogize him by our service.”
With this thought in mind, Scholtz posed a question to luncheon attendees.
“What do you want to be remembered for? What is your service to humanity?”
“Dr. King wrote, ‘Everybody can be great because anybody can serve,’” she quoted. “‘You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.’”