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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Goes to China

March 19, 2015

by Dr. Paul Eppinger
Originally published on August 23, 2013 in The Arizona Republic
On Aug. 28, 1963, I was a 30-year-old pastor in northern New Jersey. I had been active in civil-rights work there, so when I heard of the Washington march, I made arrangements to attend.
Early in the morning, I left my wife and two baby daughters to get on a train for Washington. In the nation’s capital, I joined thousands and then tens of thousands of marchers heading for the Lincoln Memorial. A spirit of festivity, excitement and commitment prevailed.
There were gospel choirs singing. Mahalia Jackson sang the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite hymn. “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” and Peter, Paul and Mary sang, “If I Had a Hammer.”
Many different speakers lifted up the cause of civil rights and then King rose to speak. His rich baritone voice and natural cadence captured the 250,000 marchers, and we realized something special was happening. We were part of King’s dream. I returned home that night more committed than ever to the cause of civil rights.
But the full impact of “The Dream” came to me 27 years later. My daughter had graduated from Yale University and had committed to go to China to teach English in a Chinese graduate school. Shortly after she arrived, she wrote me and asked for the recordings I had of King’s speeches. I sent them and asked why she wanted them. She replied that the Chinese students realized that they had to know English to succeed in today’s world and that they believed that the best spoken English were the words of Martin Luther King Jr.
Two years later, my wife, Sybil, and I traveled to China to visit her. We were met by a young Chinese Communist who was appointed to be our guide. One day, he took us to the Great Wall of China, an architectural marvel 6,000 miles long.
On top of the wall, I asked our guide where he learned English. He replied, “In the university.” (He had not attended the university where our daughter was teaching.)
“But,” I said, “you don’t speak with any accent. You speak perfect English.”
“I learned from memorizing the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King,” he replied. “In fact, I could give you the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech right now.”
Remember, we were on top of the China wall!
This was just one year after the Tiananmen Square tragedy, and so I asked, “What is your hope for China today?”
He answered with great resolve, “I have great hope for China because there are thousands of us across China that still have a dream.”
Today, there are thousands, if not millions, across China, India, Africa, the Middle East and around the world who still have a dream for human equality, economic stability and non-violent social action. After a half of century, King’s dream is more alive than ever before.
Published with the author’s permission.