In New York City on Monday afternoon, a staggering lineup of performers gathered at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights to pay homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The #MLKNow program featured, among others, Chris Rock on fire as James Baldwin, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda reading as King himself.
Miranda read the shattering, magnificent “Beyond Vietnam” speech, delivered at the same podium in April of 1967. King’s writing, as powerful as any weapon, has a cadence that goes transcendent at many points in this speech. One part, for example:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.
Who could do these words justice? Miranda, for one—and perhaps exclusively. But he throws the credit back to the man himself. “Reading MLK aloud is exactly like Shakespeare,” Miranda tweeted. “No spin on the ball required. Speak loud & clear, & the words do all the work. Such words.”
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