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By Ryan Busby
Thousands of years ago in the Ancient Near East, a group of slaves led by a man named Moses escaped from their oppressors in Egypt. While they wandered in the desert, God promised them a place where they could rest, a place to call their own. That land was called Canaan, and one day they did settle into the Promised Land, but without Moses.
In a similar fashion, the face of race relations and equal rights for the United States was the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He represented and worked to see his people freed from oppression, but his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, and he did not get to see the fruit of his and many other’s labor.
King, in his sermon, “The Birth of a New Nation,” (praising Ghana’s independence from British colonialism) used Moses as a metaphor for leaders unable to see their dreams become reality.
He explained, “There is something deep down within the very soul of man that reaches out for Canaan. Men cannot be satisfied with Egypt… Moses might not get to see Canaan, but his children will see it. He even got to the mountaintop enough to see it and that assured him that it was coming. But the beauty of the thing is that there’s always a Joshua to take up his work and take the children on in.” This sermon was delivered April 7, 1958.
King’s last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” was given the night before he was assassinated on April 3, 1968. In this speech, Dr. King continued his ten-year-old motif stating, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop! And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. 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.”
Indeed, King, it is a shame you did not get to meet your Joshua. Regardless, he is here, and on January 20 2009, the Jordan parted and the first steps into the Promised Land were taken. We still have a long way to go; many enemies and obstacles remain as your children settle into the land flowing with milk and honey. However, at least for one election, a black man lived in a nation where he was not judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. And for that reason we all can sing with much more hope than in years past, “we shall overcome.