Free at last

“And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, 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!"

Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech is not only his most famous speech, but arguably, the most important speech of the entire Civil Rights Movement. One of the quotes that gets used most often from that speech is his recounting of lyrics from the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last.” 

“Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

When people take this quote out of context, it appears that King was celebrating freedom as a goal already achieved. While the lyrics of the Negro spiritual use the present tense, King’s use of this phrase was not a declaration of the present reality in 1964 America. Rather, his intention was describing his hope and dream for the future. Here is the context for how King used the spiritual’s refrain, “And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, 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!”

 

The key word in this quote is, “when” not now, presently, or today. When King talks about the dream of the Civil Rights Movement, not just in his “I have a Dream” speech but in many of his speeches, he describes it as “a dream as yet unfulfilled.” 

Today, we find ourselves in a similar place in history, dreaming about a day when all God’s children are truly equal. While it is nice to quote King talking about freedom in the present tense, we still don’t live in that reality. King’s dream is a vision still needed for today’s future. Like the vision that John gives us in the book of Revelation 21 of a new heaven and a new earth, we yearn for the day when God’s intended reality for humanity is lived out. No more tears. No more injustice. Hand in hand, free at last, worshiping God together as equals.

MLK Jr’s God-sized dream was freedom and equality for all humanity. What God-sized dream do you have that is unfulfilled? How is God encouraging you to fight for that dream? How can you help to bring the reality of the Kingdom of God to earth today? 


Sources:

http://www.bu.edu/articles/2013/icons-among-us-free-at-last/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/I-Have-A-Dream

Cullen, Jim (2003). The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 126. ISBN0195158210.

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