On February 4th, 2 months before his assassination, Martin Luther King gave a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The sermon was on the topic of the “Drum Major Instinct”, and deals with how we all, in various ways, are tempted to give in to the temptations of “keeping up with the Joneses,” and the problems associated with such pursuits.

An interesting sermon, to be sure, and worth reading, but the “Drum Major Instinct” is most well known as the source of the eulogy for Martin Luther King. You can read (or listen) to the entire sermon: Drum Major Instinct.

In my own DMI way, I almost began this posting with an observation of how old I feel, given my age when MLK was killed 40 years ago. It’s true, though, so there it is, but this post isn’t about me; it’s about someone whose positive impact on our country’s history is yet to be fully appreciated.

I’ll further note that as I get older, and realize it’s very hard for one person to change the world, it’s actually not too hard to change the world, one person at a time.

Below is the conclusion of the sermon, where he speaks of how he would like to be remembered.

Drum Major Instinct

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator–that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, “What is it that I would want said?” And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize–that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards–that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

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. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) 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. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.