Rev. Martin Luther King Day: In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill making the third Monday of January a national holiday to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Civil rights leaders Rev. Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young, Presidents Bush and Clinton, celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, and others, were part of the groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, November 13 2007, of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. monument built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
It was the first monument to a black American on the National Mall, where King mesmerized the nation with his brilliantly paced and inspired “I Have a Dream” speech in August of 1963, in the heat of the summer and the American Civil Rights Movement.
Of course, the “I have a dream” sequence of this powerful oration is what most people remember. And the ending of “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
But equally powerful was King’s use of the language of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” also commonly known as “America”:
“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning ‘My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!’
“And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
“Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
“Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
“Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
“But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
“Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.
“And when this happens, when we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement 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 spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'” —Martin Luther King Jr., August 28th, 1963
MLK – Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. – My Country ‘Tis of Thee
According to Wikipedia, “The lyrics to ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ were written in 1831 by Reverend Samuel Francis Smith of Boston’s Park Street Church while at the Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. The song served as [America’s] de facto national anthem for much of the 19th century.”
About Rev. Smith, Kenneth W. Osbeck writes, “Following his graduation from Harvard and the Andover Theological Seminary, Samuel Smith became an outstanding minister in several Baptist churches in the East. He composed one hundred fifty hymns during his eighty-seven years and helped compile the leading Baptist hymnal of his day. He was also editor of a missionary magazine through which he exerted a strong influence in promoting the cause of missions….”
The melody of the song is the same as the British National Anthem, “God Save the Queen” (originally “King”) and has been reported to be the first song ever to be used as a “National Anthem.”
God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.
SIDEBAR: “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” was played during the Presidential Inauguration parade of President George W. Bush on 20 January, 2001.
The rock band Queen recorded an instrumental version of “God Save the Queen” on their 1975 album A Night at the Opera.
“Coretta Scott King was the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.. The couple met in Boston, where Coretta Scott was studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music; they were married on 18 June 1953. The family moved to Montgomery, Alabama and then to Atlanta as Dr. King became a civil rights leader and a prominent public figure. After Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, Coretta King established the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta; she also supported the establishment of a national holiday in honor of her husband, an idea which became law in 1986. Coretta and Martin Luther King had four children: Yolanda (born 1955), Martin Luther III (b. 1957), Dexter (b. 1961), and Bernice (1963).” —Who2.com
My Country ‘Tis of Thee Lyrics
My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!
My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.
Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.
Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King.
You can hear a midi version of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.