Music From the Mountain Top

[This piece was written to accompany a playlist celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day.]


“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, America celebrates a man who stood from the mountaintop.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was many things: a pastor, an activist, a humanitarian, a giant among men. As the primary voice and figurehead for the civil rights movement, he led marches, organized peaceful protests, and gave legendary speeches that distinguished him as one of the greatest orators in American history.

From the protests in Birmingham to the March on Washington, Brother Martin didn’t do it alone, but it couldn’t have been done without him. Like the greater cause he helped rally, securing the federally-recognized holiday to memorialize his birthday and his legacy (with help from a song by Stevie Wonder) was not an easy fight, but it is all the more satisfying when righteousness eventually prevails.

Recent events have made it abundantly and frustratingly clear that America still has a great distance to travel.

There is still work to be done in order to realize the dream that MLK planted in so many of us, the dream of one day living “in a nation where [one] will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

As ever we can praise the progress we’ve made while acknowledging the great chasm we still have to overcome. For all the goodness that is fostered between strangers on a daily basis, there is still a great deal of unnecessary cruelty, suffering, and misunderstanding. The virtuous crusade has taken more time than anyone could have hoped for, but what we cannot lose is hope.

As King optimistically proclaimed, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

For this day of rest and reflection, we have made this powerful playlist gathering songs about or inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and the ideals he stood for.

From the cries of Otis Redding and Nina Simone, to the self-respect of James Brown and Aretha Franklin, to the success stories of Jay-Z, Kanye and Frank Ocean, music has been a force of its own in furthering the long and continued fight for a better world for all.

In its own modest way, we hope it will help continue fueling the perpetually burning flame that King brought to a raging blaze: the unbending conviction that all people are equal and capable of linking arms as brothers and sisters of the same human race.

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