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Posted at 12:22 PM ET, 01/17/2011

Thank God Dr. King didn't sneeze

By E.J. Dionne

On Sept. 20, 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was signing copies of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, at a Harlem bookstore when a deranged woman stabbed him in the chest. As King later recounted, "the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that's punctured, you drown in your own blood -- that's the end of you."

King recalled the incident in his last sermon before his assassination. Speaking in Memphis on April 3, 1968, at the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, King said: "It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died."

He then went on to talk about some of the letters from well-wishers he received at the time, including "one from the president and the vice president." But while he did not remember exactly what all those letters said, he did vividly remember one: "It said simply, 'Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.' She said, 'While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze.'"

King went on to use that letter to make the central point in his final sermon:

And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn't sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream. And taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I'm so happy that I didn't sneeze.

There are many things worth contemplating here, but focus for a moment on his reference to "those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution." We live at a moment when references to our founding documents, particularly the Constitution, have a decidedly partisan and ideological ring and tend to be offered by those who are politically conservative. But as King shows here, many who revere the Constitution do so because they see its adoption as the first step down a long road to a more comprehensive and inclusive democracy. The Constitution is rooted, as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has argued, in the idea of "active liberty." King was exactly right to see both the Declaration and the Constitution as "those great wells of democracy."

The most celebrated and tragic lines from King's Memphis sermon are also worth remembering on this day.

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. And 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.

We will get to the promised land. And we can be grateful, along with that girl from White Plains, that Dr. King was granted an extra decade of life to bring us a bit closer.

By E.J. Dionne  | January 17, 2011; 12:22 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Comments


The idea that anyone reading the Constitution or the Declaration and seeing it as a partisan activity is appalling. We have had 27 amendments to the Constitution, none less important than the original document and a testament to an ongoing experiment in self government.

Posted by: edbyronadams | January 17, 2011 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Dionne is a hyperbolic partisan. Reading the Constitution and/or the Declaration of Independence is something that Dionne should do every day so that he can remember why he is writing his op eds instead of rotting in a dungeon somewhere.

Posted by: ecartr5 | January 17, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Onward and upward. Please feel free to recall MLK to us anytime. He was quite a man, and I say that, being all white and everything, too.

Posted by: SarahBB | January 17, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

MLK was a GIANT: exact OPPOSITE of the masses of cynical, partison, ideologue hacks, provocateurs & procurers, from Jesse, Rev. Al, the Chicago church lout, et al, who bandy about libels in MLK's name. Do you imagine MLK would have libeled Palin, assaulted OReilly, in the smarmy style of the Krugman/Matthews/Olberman/Milbank fashion? America, flush that toilet.

Posted by: craigslsst | January 17, 2011 2:05 PM | Report abuse

EJ, your post has a "decidedly partisan and ideological ring" to it. Are you trying to be ironic?

Posted by: gomer3 | January 17, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Think of the America on Guns, we've known since 1968...

We have arms control right now. No stingers, hand grenades, tanks, etc. The only question is where to draw the line.

Handguns and their bullets, illegal. Rifles only, sold in only new calibers not shared by handguns in major manufacture. You only get the pistol if you have diminished physical capacity to operate a rifle, such as an elderly person. Then you go to the DHS website to buy it, only after you are vetted for it.

That preserves the armed citizenry of the 2nd Amendment, and over time, will sharply reduce the insane level of handgun violence we are supposed accept as a precious freedom that can never be modified...

- Balkingpoints / www

Posted by: RField7 | January 17, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Martin Luther King Jr. was a great Lincoln Republican who struggled against the Democrat Party that was holding his people down in the South from the 1860's to the 1960's.......

Wonder what King would say today if he visited the Democrat Party run plantation over there in Anacostia?

King dream has no been realized and we can thank the Democrat Party and ALL their modern-day plantations they have setup in ALL of our Deep Blue One Party cities........

Very sad indeed......and the POST continues to protect the Democrat Party ...........

Posted by: allenridge | January 17, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

The single word that I attribute to Dr. Martin Luther King is COURAGE. It's an oft used word whose real meaning has faded somewhat today. He had it and he used it to change things for the better. He was simply a great American. We need more people with courage today, people who are quiet and courageous about their convictions.

Posted by: MikeV2 | January 17, 2011 2:32 PM | Report abuse

"There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism."

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/693253/obama_radicalism_and_religion.html?cat=9

a lincoln republican? keep dreaming.

Posted by: joew22 | January 17, 2011 2:39 PM | Report abuse

MLK was a GIANT: exact OPPOSITE of the masses of cynical, partison, ideologue hacks, provocateurs & procurers, from Jesse, Rev. Al, the Chicago church lout, et al, who bandy about libels in MLK's name. Do you imagine MLK would have libeled Palin, assaulted OReilly, in the smarmy style of the Krugman/Matthews/Olberman/Milbank fashion? America, flush that toilet.

Posted by: craigslsst
----
You malign Krugman, Mathews, Milbank, and Olberman BUT YOU DON'T MENTION THE ABSOLUTE GARBAGE THAT O'REILLY, BECK, LIMBAUGH, and HANNITY SPEW EVERY DAY! What are you craislsst, a COMPLETE MORON? The channel that calls itself Fox News IS NOT NEWS. Got it? Then I DO NOT want to read any/ more idiotic posts from you.

Posted by: nyrunner101 | January 17, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Life's most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?
– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by: angie12106 | January 17, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Absolutely! Although the Founding Fathers disagreed on many things, sometimes vehemently, they did come to an agreement, and so we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Would that more Americans remembered that it is okay to disagree, not so okay to hate your neighbor because of that disagreement.

Posted by: taroya | January 17, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

MLK would have done more for his benighted people if he had preached to them: MARRIAGE, ABSTINENCE BEFORE MARRIAGE, STAYING IN SCHOOL. ALL HE REALLY TAUGHT THEM WAS TO MAKE A BIG FUSS.

Posted by: ravitchn | January 17, 2011 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Why trifle with words? Martin Luther King, Jr. was GOD, the greatest individual human being who ever drew breath, the incarnate LORD ALMIGHTY whose ventures in plagiarism and sexual orgies so impressed the president that the FBI records have ever since been suppressed.

Posted by: LeePefley1 | January 17, 2011 3:16 PM | Report abuse

ravitchn - i think you forgot to include the word "uppity" somewhere in your post.

Posted by: joew22 | January 17, 2011 3:47 PM | Report abuse

MLK wasn't uppity. Obama is uppity.

Posted by: ravitchn | January 17, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I suppose Martin would not mind if I attempt to shake things up a bit on a holiday in his Honor. I admire Rev. King mostly for his conviction that one day a brotherhood and sisterhood would be established that all God's Children would sit at the same table to break bread with a spirit of common love and respect.

Speaking of breaking bread, fragments of the Gospel of Mary have been rejected as being non authentic, a blaspheme and Gnostic. The fragments left to us by the purported Mary who was in love with JC, have been rejected as scholars and theologians interpret the writing to be of the Last Supper. Which Experts assume that Mary reported as a Marriage Supper. That is to say, the Gospel of Mary was rejected as violating the sanctity of the Last Supper of Christ in purpose and deed.

However, on a more profound level, did Mary report a vision whereby a Marriage Supper was held in Heaven ? The visions of Seers and Prophets have been a mainstay of Abraham's Religion for some 3000 years or better ? The Book of Revelations, or the Apocalypse, is the best example of approved visions to be carried by Christianity. In times when Religious Authority met to broadcast or censor religious documentation, the Book of Revelations was highly disputed. And, without reading an authentic version of the Book of Revelations from beginning to end, in its entirety, numerous misinterpretations have now haunted the world for over 1500 years.

Could it be, that in a perfect world, such as Heaven, JC and Mary were hitched ? And that, before leaving Earth, Mary reported her own Wedding Supper through a vision which was held in a dimension of the Universe known as Heaven ? And that, the Suppers reported through approved gospels and by Mary are separate events ? It's a matter of interpretation I guess.

For awhile, on earth, we walked hand in hand with Rev. King. To me, the Dream has spread to the rest of the Universe. It is a higher principle, the one of equality, which JC tried to uphold by shaking things up by indicating Jew and Gentile were equal in the eyes of the Lord. The Gospel of Thomas holds a key as early written language reports JC said, paraphrased, "Be circumcised in Spirit".

Believers of numerous Faiths continue to pray "Thy Will be done as Heaven on Earth". Now, what shall we do today and tomorrow as a Bridegroom has once again left us ? Faith ought to lead us to believe that the Dream continues and Neda Lives !!!

Posted by: MarcusOne | January 17, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

LeePefley1 wrote:
Why trifle with words? Martin Luther King, Jr. was GOD, the greatest individual human being who ever drew breath, the incarnate LORD ALMIGHTY whose ventures in plagiarism and sexual orgies so impressed the president that the FBI records have ever since been suppressed.
____________________________
And JFK was an unfaithful playboy of a husband and Thomas Jefferson made babies with his slave (he OWNED his own flesh and blood!) . . . . and we have all sinned and fallen short. And because we have transgressed, nobody should ever acknowledge the good we have done. Yeah, right.

Go ahead, dude. Engage in your sour irony. People will be admiring MLK for generations, feet of clay and all, and for good reason. As for you, how are you leaving a better world in your wake?

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | January 17, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

The only ones "politicizing" the Constitution are LIBERALS. All conservatives are saying is FOLLOW THE BLESSED THING.

When we challenge Obamacare as unconstitutional we FIGHT TO PROVE IT IN COURT--and in VIRGINIA, IT HAS BEEN PROVEN.

25 other states are suing to find the law unconsitutional as well. IS THIS "POLITICIZING THE CONSITUTION"?? Or is it a call by American Citizens for an overreaching president to FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTION.

If the courts decide we're wrong, then so be it; BUT UNTIL THEN, are we supposed to just roll over and let BARACK OBAMA DO ANYTHING HE WANTS BECAUSE HE LOOKS GOOD ON TV? No thanks.

UNTIL THE SUPREME COURT SAYS OTHERWISE, WE WILL FIGHT THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL PRACTICES OF THIS PRESIDENT TOOTH AND NAIL UNTIL HE BACKS OFF... WHO DOES OBAMA THINK HE IS?

Posted by: TonyV1 | January 17, 2011 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"You malign Krugman, Mathews, Milbank, and Olberman BUT YOU DON'T MENTION THE ABSOLUTE GARBAGE THAT O'REILLY, BECK, LIMBAUGH, and HANNITY SPEW EVERY DAY! What are you craislsst, a COMPLETE MORON? The channel that calls itself Fox News IS NOT NEWS. Got it? Then I DO NOT want to read any/ more idiotic posts from you."

Posted by: nyrunner101

Who cares what you want or don't want.YOU DON'T DICTATE TO ANY AMERICAN. You deserve being maligned along with the lying scum you defend.

Feel free to continue besmirching those you can never measure up to. Americans do not prevent you from making as a$$ of yourself. We like to keep our enemies where we can here and see them spewing their hate for Americans, our Country and our Constitution. Carry on.

Posted by: RobLACa | January 17, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

EJ Dionne = hyperbolic hypocracy.
Good grief, no wonder the Wash Compost readership is way down.

The people are waking up.
We are not going to take anymore of this constant repetition of talking points and propaganda. Give it up. The left is such a small, such a tiny, VERY LOUD but insignificant group of haters

Posted by: rdb2 | January 17, 2011 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Dionne's comment raises so many questions. Was the African-American woman who stabbed Dr. King a member of the Tea Party? Was she inflamed by anything Sarah Palin wrote? Did she listen to Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck? What about her knife--was it legal to own it because the assault-weapon ban was allowed to lapse? Did she purchase it taking advantage of some loophole in the knife registration law? Was it purchased over the Internet? Come on, Mr. Dionne, don't leave this story unexamined.

Posted by: Rob_ | January 17, 2011 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Re allenridge, I read your diatribe.
"Martin Luther King Jr. was a great Lincoln Republican who struggled against the Democrat Party that was holding his people down in the South from the 1860's to the 1960's......."

First, the Republican party failed the Negro after Recconstruction and did nothing to suppress Jim Crow and its reprecussions. Nothing.

Second, I recall my parents' stories about Eleanore Roosevelt making waves by associating with strong black women.

Third, I guess it was that Lincoln Republican Harry Truman who desegregated the Armed Forces.

Fourth, why did the Dixiecrats (southern Democrats) change party to Republican in the 50s and 60s?

Fifth, was it a Lincoln Republican that passed the Civil Rights act of 64 and the Voting Right Bill? How about the Hotel Accommodation and Equal Housing Acts?

Last, I grew up in Anacostia. I bleed Red and Blue (do you know what that means?) I wonder, what do you really know or understand about anything east of the river, let alone the black experience?

Have a glorious MLK day.

Posted by: arduck | January 17, 2011 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Dear Rob.

No. Its been documented for over 50 years that the woman was mentally unstable. Just like the the Arizona perpetrator.

P.S. The bottom line is that real Americans are glad he did not sneeze. Are you?

Posted by: arduck | January 17, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Reading down through the posts here, I am not very encouraged that Rev. King's message has sunk in yet.

Posted by: tunkefer | January 17, 2011 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I loved Dr. King he spoke of whites and blacks walking together with the same liberties and freedom. Children regargless of race being equal in their oppertunities to achieve all they could be. He didn't call for socialism, for he thought the black man and the white man if given an equal chance that would be enough. Now we have heard nothing like this from black leaders today, they insist on quoatas and affirmitive action guaranteeing blacks a special placement for their inferiority. What rubbish, blacks if asked are fully capable of taking care of themselves and the insistance of interiority breeds a complex of interiority that is crippling the black community. Please refrain from using Dr. Kings name in the insistance that the black Americans need any more than an equal chance at the American dream

Posted by: wbindner | January 17, 2011 5:48 PM | Report abuse

You need to understand EJ Dionne. He is a Marxist who uses Catholic Social Thought unjustifiably to support Socialism.

Posted by: ravitchn | January 17, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

And it's so funny when republicans keep referring to MLK to criticize black people. Conservatives absolutely HATED him when he was alive (especially William Buckley, Falwell, Reagan, Helms, Thurmond and others who called him a dangerous communist)... but now that he's sanctified (and safely dead) some are even trying to claim him (didn't he vote for JFK and LBJ?)

Sorry but you ain't fooling no one.

Posted by: sgtpepper23 | January 17, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

It is sad when one thinks of a mediocre, undereducated, inarticulate, vitriolic, faux-patriot who speaks of "foundational freedoms" and other gobbledeegook and describes them as the tools for limiting participation in government to only those who look like her.

Think of that in comparison to another who worked so hard to overcome so much, who cherished every opportunity education could give him, and was so eloquent when reminding us of promise those founding documents held for all.

Posted by: jade_7243 | January 17, 2011 6:01 PM | Report abuse

"...nobody should ever acknowledge the good we have done."

Good? This person is very largely responsible for racial integration, the chief source of our current degradation.

Posted by: LeePefley1 | January 17, 2011 6:30 PM | Report abuse

The phrase "Great Man" has been cheapened somewhat by the media and Hollywood but it will forever be a fit and apt description of Dr.King who was that, on many levels,and I say this without the slightest hesitation as a white conservative.Remembering him each year also serves to remind us of the crassness of so many of those who now seek to claim his mantle

Posted by: diana11777 | January 17, 2011 6:46 PM | Report abuse

The Civil Rights movement helped the black bourgeoisie, including Michelle and Barack Obama. The vast majority of blacks -- those in Camden, NJ, Detroit. etc. would be better off as slaves on southern planatations where they were well fed and clothed. Until they start recognizing marriage as a good thing, sex before marriage as a bad thing, and work as desirable and not a form of punishment they will remain what Aristotle called natural slaves.

Posted by: ravitchn | January 17, 2011 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Where are the great African-American leaders of today, the legacies of Dr. King?
Are there any who are not political opportunists and therefore racist themselves?

Al Sharpton?
Jesse Jackson?

Bill Cosby comes to mind, but who else?

Posted by: spikethedog | January 17, 2011 6:56 PM | Report abuse

I challenge anyone - ANYONE - to produce an article written by Dionne that is NOT partisan, pedantic and pedestrian. Dionne, you are a lightweight.

Posted by: CCPony1001 | January 17, 2011 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Whatever King was, he has been hijacked by the Democrats as a partisan tool, therefore he is irrelevant to me. Seems I recall something about judging by content of character, not color of skin - obviously that's been perverted by the Dems, like everything else, to mean if you disagree with the dark guy you're a racist. Whatever.

Posted by: doctorfixit | January 17, 2011 7:41 PM | Report abuse

In 1954, Martin Luther King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

Yes, Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister.

Every year I read about the greatness of MLK. He was a great man. A great religious leader.

Wonder why Liberals like EJ always fail to bring that up?

Posted by: KeyserSoze2 | January 18, 2011 2:35 AM | Report abuse

I doubt that Mr. Dionne would be "shivering in a dungeon" if we had a totalitarian government. It's much more likely that he'd be the government's shill and would be ratting out citizens so that they could be tossed in that dungeon.

Posted by: ShovelPlease | January 18, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

WOW the RIGHT WING conservative have not changed their spots in 10,000 years.

Still raging cave dwellers..

Give them any random
Gender or Non Gender ProNoun or Adjective

They will find ways to turn it into a hate word!!

Posted by: pdq5 | January 18, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I doubt that Mr. Dionne would be "shivering in a dungeon" if we had a totalitarian government. It's much more likely that he'd be the government's shill and would be ratting out citizens so that they could be tossed in that dungeon.

Posted by: ShovelPlease
=============================

With an attitude like that

You fit right into Quitmo

Posted by: pdq5 | January 18, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

The only ones "politicizing" the Constitution are LIBERALS. All conservatives are saying is FOLLOW THE BLESSED THING.

When we challenge Obamacare as unconstitutional we FIGHT TO PROVE IT IN COURT--and in VIRGINIA, IT HAS BEEN PROVEN.

25 other states are suing to find the law unconsitutional as well. IS THIS "POLITICIZING THE CONSITUTION"?? Or is it a call by American Citizens for an overreaching president to FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTION.

If the courts decide we're wrong, then so be it; BUT UNTIL THEN, are we supposed to just roll over and let BARACK OBAMA DO ANYTHING HE WANTS BECAUSE HE LOOKS GOOD ON TV? No thanks.

UNTIL THE SUPREME COURT SAYS OTHERWISE, WE WILL FIGHT THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL PRACTICES OF THIS PRESIDENT TOOTH AND NAIL UNTIL HE BACKS OFF... WHO DOES OBAMA THINK HE IS?

Posted by: TonyV1

------------

Take a deep breath Tony.

First, considering the 25 States who are suing have Attorney Generals that are Republicans - then yes they are "POLITICIZING THE CONSITUTION" and it's nothing more than a partisan attack on the bill.

So let's dispense with your notion that they are instead somehow defenders of anything but their own political beliefs.

Secondly, "WHO DOES OBAMA THINK HE IS?" He's the President, deal with it.

And try not using all-caps so often. You just look like a shrill weirdo.

Posted by: B-rod | January 18, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

"...nobody should ever acknowledge the good we have done."

Good? This person is very largely responsible for racial integration, the chief source of our current degradation.

Posted by: LeePefley1

-----------------

Former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott couldn't have said it any better when reminiscing about Segrationist Strom Thurmond....and for doing so, he was rightly called out for his bigotry.

Thanks for clearly expose yours, LeePefley

Posted by: B-rod | January 18, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

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