Usually it is called the “I have a dream” speech. That wasn’t the original title, but no matter. That is how it is and should be known. If you’ve seen video of King giving that part of the speech, just reading this will probably make you hear it again.
But it is the end of the speech I want to focus on. There Dr. King says he hopes that one day “all of God’s children will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!””
A war was fought to end slavery in America, and the cost was terrible.
With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the Civil War officially ended. Fighting went on for several weeks however, and slavery went on longer.
One place where slavery was affected little by the Civil War was Texas. There were no major battles there, and in fact some enslavers from outside Texas moved there. It appeared to be a safe place to continue slavery.
On June 19, 1865, Union troops under the leadership of General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. There they read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
True freedom for the 250,000 slaves in Texas didn’t happen overnight, of course, but it was close. The 13th Amendment was passed in December, making slavery illegal everywhere in the United States.
Free at last? That was the hope on June 19, 1866 when the first “Jubilee Day” was held by freedmen in Texas. But it was 97 years later when MLK gave that rousing speech.
Slavery may have ended, but freedom seemed elusive.
A lesson in slavery and freedom.
Jubilee Day takes its name from the Bible, a book that knows a lot about freedom and slavery. The nation of Israel was enslaved by the nation of Egypt for more than 100 years, for instance.
That event became an object lesson — as did other historical incidents of slavery — for anyone who would listen. The lesson is fairly simple: you will be a slave. The question is, how will you be a slave (voluntary or involuntary) and to what or whom.
The other part of the lesson is that the only way to be truly free is to be a voluntary slave (bond servant) to Jesus.
I’m not writing this to evangelize anyone, I’m writing it as a lesson in freedom and slavery. Here’s why.
Many people who think they are free are really slaves, and they don’t know it.
In fact it is impossible, at least as far as the logic above teaches us, to have complete freedom in your life from every possible master.
Not me! Yes, you.
You may argue that you are not a slave to anything or anyone. If so, I suggest you examine your life more closely. Peter wrote, “You are a slave to whatever controls you.”
That could be money. That could be popularity. It could be power, or position, or politics.
Look around and you will find numerous examples of people controlled by politics. In fact many of us are in danger of having politics control us, at least to some degree.
Does a picture of Donald Trump create a visceral reaction in you? How about Kamala Harris? Just reading those names can cause some of us to react. That is a form of control.
Was the man who assassinated Martin Luther King really in control of his feelings and decisions? I think he was a slave to a kind of hatred, and as Voltaire wrote, “It is difficult to free slaves from the chains they revere.”
If it isn’t politics, what is it? I know people who are slaves to their work. Others are slaves to gambling. You may know someone who is a slave to social media. Some are slaves to victimhood, others to entitlement.
Slaves to protest and slaves to protesters.
An article was sent to me a couple of days ago that speaks to political slavery. Apparently a customer or customers protested on Twitter to one of the multi-billion dollar subsidiaries of the largest grocers in America about shirts they were selling. In the article, the shirts were called patriotic. To the protester, they promoted gun violence.
The store removed the items in question and wrote an apology. And of course those on the opposite side of that issue went just a little bit crazy. They threatened, “Go woke and go broke.”
The store is free to carry or not carry merchandise that is otherwise legal. Customers are free to purchase or not purchase that merchandise. They are also free to protest.
And of course those who dislike the decision the company makes are free to complain about that.
But where does slavery end and freedom begin?
Nelson Mandela wrote, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
It seems to me there is very little of that going on these days. We insist on our freedom while denying it for others, and that is no kind of freedom, it is a kind of slavery.
You hold the key.
What are you a slave to that is keeping you from living in real freedom? You hold the key. All you have to do is make the choice to be free from that common slavery.
Then you have to guard your freedom, and you also have to guard the freedom of others.
We will never sing “Free at last” until we get that right.
Do good. It’s in you.