One of the best ways to celebrate MLK Day is to hear how he viewed the world and wanted to be remembered. We can do this by listening to his speech “The Drum Major Instinct”. It may be his best speech in his history of amazing American speeches.
He describes the Drum Major Instinct as both a useful and destructive instinct in all of us.
“Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”
He talks about how the ego, the destructive version of this instinct, is the reason why race problems exist:
“Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum-major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first.”
And ironically, two months before his assassination, he talks about how he wants to be remembered:
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)
It’s a good day to take the time and listen to or read the entire speech here.