Abraham, Martin, and John...what do these three names have in common and why should we be thinking about them today? If you are a baby boomer like me you probably remember the 1968 song by Dion whose title was simply these three names. If you aren't a baby boomer you may not have a clue. Regardless we all need to understand the stories behind the names in the song. Especially on Inauguration Day... since two of the names refer to US Presidents.
The Abraham is Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President, who in 1865 gave one of the most memorable Inaugural Addresses in our history. The country was nearing the end of the Civil War and many were calling for harsh measures against the South even after victory was assured. After fighting to keep the Union together physically Lincoln wanted to restore the unity of our country and so urged "with malice toward none and charity for all, let us bind up the nation's wounds".
Martin is Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights activist whose birthday we celebrate today. In 1963, the same year as the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, he gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. He called for action to "make real the promises of democracy"so as to "live out the true meaning of the creed ...we hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal" He appealed to faith and hope, and dreamed of a day when his "four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"
And John is John Fitzgerald Kennedy who, having survived combat in WWII and religious prejudice (Catholics were still viewed with suspicion in his day), became our 35th President. He came into office in a time of transition and in his Inaugural Address he stated "the torch has been passed to a new generation" committed to "explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us". He encouraged public service as a duty to the nation and to the world and through his efforts created the Peace Corps which to this day does just that.
All three of these were guided by faith and hope, unity and compassion, service and sacrifice for the common good. All three were gunned down in their prime by other men guided only by hatred and a violent opposition to their ideals. But their ideals live on. They have a legacy greater than their killers and their words are etched in our hearts as well as in stone. We have made progress on their dreams but there is much more work to be done.
I urge all to re-read their words today and take them to heart. If you can I would also encourage you to visit their memorials. Lincoln's and MLK's are close together on the National Mall and JFK's is in Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River. I have stood on the spot where Martin gave his "Dream" speech (his memorial was not yet built then) and have read the words etched in stone for Abraham and John....my eyes were not dry long that day.
And there is one more name in that Dion song--Bobby. Bobby is Robert F Kennedy, brother of John, who served his country as US Attorney General and Senator. His words live on long after him as well, at least for me. He once said "there are those that look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?" It's time to work, to pray, to debate ....and yes, to dream... along with Abraham, Martin, and John.
(p.s. - I have included the links to lyrics and texts below so that you may read the full version of each)
Abraham, Martin, and John lyrics
Lincoln Second Inaugural Address text
JFK Inaugural Address text
MLK I Have a Dream speech text