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F. Scott Key Star Spangled Motto Our Cause it is Just War of 1812

On this day in 1776…
On this day in 1865…
On this day in 1968…

A common thread

The mere mention of those years is enough to evoke some of the most profound events and images from our nation’s history.

As it turns out, April 4th has seen several of them.

In 1776, General George Washington begins marching his unpaid soldiers toward New York in anticipation of a British invasion. Ironically, the inability of Congress to pay its soldiers and expenses, even after winning the war, led to the overthrow of the Articles of Confederation and the drafting of the Constitution, providing greater ability to raise and manage funds.

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln has a dream about his own assassination. Then, it happened just ten days later.

‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old.

The day prior, he gave his last sermon, saying:
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… . I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve 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!”

A common thread runs through all of these events. Each of these men seemed to understand, despite tremendous national and personal challenges, they were playing a part in something bigger than themselves. Thus, they persevered. First, in forming America, then keeping it together, and finally, unifying its citizens. Their examples all speak to our national motto: “In God We Trust.”

Indeed, we find that same sentiment in the final stanza of Francis Scott Key’s poem “The Star-Spangled Banner:”

“Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

F. Scott Key Star Spangled Motto Our Cause it is Just War of 1812

 

MLK Selma

On this day in 1965, the historic Selma to Montgomery march begins, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

First, here are some words from his address at the conclusion of the march:

“Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.

There is nothing wrong with marching in this sense. The Bible tells us that the mighty men of Joshua merely walked about the walled city of Jericho and the barriers to freedom came tumbling down. I like that old Negro spiritual, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” In its simple, yet colorful, depiction of that great moment in biblical history, it tells us that:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
And the walls come tumbling down.
Up to the walls of Jericho they marched, spear in hand.
“Go blow them ramhorns,” Joshua cried,
“‘Cause the battle am in my hand.”

These words I have given you just as they were given us by the unknown, long-dead, dark-skinned originator. Some now long-gone black bard bequeathed to posterity these words in ungrammatical form, yet with emphatic pertinence for all of us today.”

Our hope, Our Nation

Finally, here are a few similar and enduringly pertinent excerpts from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:

“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope.”

“With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

 

MLK March Selma to Montgomery

Rosa Parks fingerprints

On this day in 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks is arrested and jailed for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus. She was in the first row of the ‘black section’ when the driver demanded that she give up her seat to a white male passenger.

As a result, she is known as “The mother of the civil rights movement.”

Her act of civil disobedience led to a 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott, organized by Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the boycott, Dr. King said:
“This is not a war between the white and the Negro but a conflict between justice and injustice. If we are arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love.”

Then, in November 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bus segregation laws as being in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Rosa later wrote, “I felt the presence of God on the bus and heard His quiet voice as I sat there waiting for the police to take me to the station.”

Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005 and was the first woman to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Proud to be an American

In 1996, she wrote this in response to a letter from a 13 year-old named Michael, who asked her about the changes she has seen during he 83 years:

“I am grateful to God for this long life. I am thankful that He has used me to fulfill some of His plans.

I am proud to be an American. America is a wonderful country. In just over 200 years, since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we have come a long way. Slavery has been abolished. Child labor laws have been established as the law of the land. Women have the right to vote and have taken their places in politics, the arts, sciences, and business. I am proud to see that history and her story are coming together as one as we move ahead.

Our country is the model for every other developing country in the world for achieving justice and equality for its citizens. Our Constitution has lasted longer than any other constitution in modern history.

We cannot take these blessings for granted. We must share these gifts from God. Whether we are 13 or 83, we must show the world that we are able to correct our mistakes–including homelessness, poor race relations, and violence–and move forward to a better society. I know that we can. This nation has always overcome the obstacles it has faced.”

Certainly, then, we can all be proud to be American, like Rosa Parks.

Rosa Parks fingerprints

Martin Luther King Jr I Have a Dream Speech

On this day in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers  what became known as his “I Have a Dream” speech. From the Lincoln Memorial steps, he spoke to approximately 250,000 people at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Magnificent Words

Here are several excerpts from his speech:

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”

So, let us all continue to work to make America great.

Martin Luther King Jr I Have a Dream Speech

MLK Washington Monument

On this day in 1969, James Earl Ray pleads guilty to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., then is sentenced to 99 years in prison. Interestingly, Ray was born on this day in 1928.

King’s legacy as a leader endures because of Who he followed. The following quotes exemplify the essence of his life and his message:

“Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”

King’s King

Finally, King spoke these words as he concluded his last sermon, delivered the day before he was shot and killed:

“I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. … I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington D.C. Monument

16th street baptist girls MLK

On this day in 1963, a bomb made of fifteen sticks of dynamite is planted in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It explodes during Sunday morning services, killing four young girls.

Their names were Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins (all 14 years old), and Denise McNair (11).

16th Street Baptist Girls Bombingham
Birmingham endured three church bombings in the eleven days since a federal order to integrate Alabama’s school system. As a result, the city earned the lamentable moniker “Bombingham.”

“Beautiful, beautiful”

Then, on September 18th, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eulogized the girls in front of more than 8,000 mourners. Here are a few portions of that powerful tribute:

“This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God… .They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came.

Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive.

I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity’s affirmation that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance.

Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.

And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died. …They died between the sacred walls of the church of God, and they were discussing the eternal meaning of love. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations.”

Taft Born

Also on this day, in 1857, President William Howard Taft is born in Cincinnati, Ohio

Taft was president from 1909 to 1913. He closed his inaugural address by invok[ing] the considerate sympathy and support of my fellow-citizens and the aid of the Almighty God in the discharge of my responsible duties.”

Then, in 1921 he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Warren Harding. As such, Taft is the first and only former president to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Finally, he famously said:
“I love judges, and I love courts. They are my ideals, that typify on earth what we shall meet hereafter in heaven under a just God.”