When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Sunday, Oct. 27, 1963, preached from the pulpit of the Salem Baptist Church, formerly of Jenkintown, just five years before his assassination on April 4, 1968, the civil rights’ icon bellowed three evocative words — “all,” “here,” and “now” — that resounded throughout the black church’s historic sanctuary and well beyond its walls.
Almost 30 years ago during the early 1990s, Salem’s foundational pastor, the late Rev. Dr. Robert Johnson Smith Sr. told me during an interview that he had been a classmate of King while they were undergraduates at the historically black college, Morehouse, in Atlanta, Ga., where King was born and raised.
So, at the height of the civil rights’ movement in 1963 Dr. Smith was compelled to invite King to preach at Salem that has since moved to Abington’s Roslyn community under the dynamic leadership of Pastor Marshall Mitchell.
King, born Jan. 15, 1929, had educational roots to the Philadelphia area, specifically the Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, where he received a 1951 master’s degree in divinity before matriculating to Boston University and earning in 1955 a doctorate in systematic theology.
Pastor Mitchell, in fact, replicated King’s 1963 service at Salem in August, 2013, paying tribute to the 1963 “March on Washington” where King delivered the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech to more than 250,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial and to King’s exceptional 1963 sermon at Salem that had been discovered on tape in the church’s inventory room, according to Alexis Clark’s Aug. 2013 article in The Root.com.
The great orator’s message of demanding immediate justice and freedom on American soil is sweeping, visionary and soul stirring, with one audio version of his “All, Here and Now” sermon even available on the Web via YouTube.com that’s introduced with support from the legendary movie director Otto Preminger.
King’s “timeless” words, delivered in a booming voice tinged with a soulful, southern resonance, speak for themselves:
“We don’t need to utter but three words to tell this nation what we’re talking about. They aren’t big words,” preached King, at just age 34. “You don’t need to have a great vocabulary to utter them. You don’t need to have a philosophical bent to grasp them. They are three little words.
“But we want to let the world know that these words describe what we mean and what we’re determined to do about racial injustice,” King roared.
“One is the word ‘All.’ We don’t want some of our rights. We don’t want a few token handouts here and there. We want ALL of our rights,” the preacher said as listeners responded with shouts of “Amen,” and “That’s right!”
“The other word is ‘here,’” King continued. “There are some people who say that we need to go back to Africa. And there are some of us who tell Negros in the south to leave the south. ‘You can’t be free so get out.’ But down in Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia, South Carolina, we are saying something else now.
“We want ALL of our rights. And we want all of our rights here in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina,” the preacher demanded, before making his final point.
“Then there is the third word. It’s the word ‘NOW!’” King exploded.
“We’re not willing to wait 100 years for our rights. We’re not willing to wait 50 years for what is ours [according to] the constitution of this United States and the authority of God himself!” King thundered.
“No, we are not willing to wait another 25 years for our rights. We can hear voices telling us to slow up. We can hear voices telling us to cool off. Our only answer … must be that we have cooled off too long, and if we keep cooling off, we’ll end up in a deep freeze!” he continued as listeners applauded with shouts of affirmation.
“No, what we are saying to this nation is that we want all of our rights. We want them here and we want all of them not next year, not next week, but we want them NOW, at this hour,” King exhorted.
As we prepare to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Salem Baptist Church and other venues, it’s vital to realize his message still resonates today while racial discrimination and anti-Semitism escalates amid right-wing fanaticism, not only in the United States, but globally, as America’s leadership on such human rights’ issues falters.
The introduction to YouTube’s “All, Here and Now” recording via The Ultimate Collection edition, dated June 17, 1966, notes that “Otto Preminger, foremost independent producer of motion pictures, has said, and we quote: ‘I have great admiration for Dr. King. His spirit and devotion to these ideals when translated into reality will lead to full democracy….’ Dr. King now responds to this observation with three little words…. Three little words of big and great significance.... ‘All, here and now.’”