In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day, here is a link (including audio) to his speech Drum Major Instinct. In it he considers what kind of leader he would like to be and how he might be remembered after he dies.

He begins  by defining the drum major instinct as “a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first,” and he suggests that we all have this instinct. After considering the ways that this instinct can be destructive, and, especially in a consumeristic society, can lead to exclusivity, he turns the question toward himself and how he might be remembered as a leader. Speaking of what someone might say at his funeral he says:

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.

Two months later to the day King was assassinated. A recording of this speech was played at his funeral. Previous MLK day posts can be found here and here.

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