I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him.
... I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners -- all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty -- and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.Powerful historical figures like Dr. King help provide the perspective that we need to make sense of the present. And in some very small way, we are all curators of precious heirlooms that we hold in trust for future generations. Bill Tramposch, the Executive Director of Historic Nantucket, wrote a wonderful introduction to the current issue of Historic Nantucket in which he observed that museums and historical societies "are the cultural keels for our ships of state. They bring us together; and they help us to stand and face the great possibilities we have to play an active and informed part in determining our future.... They nurture our tolerance; they help us to celebrate our differences; and they prepare us to adapt to ever-uncertain times by reacquainting us with life's constraints."
As we honor Dr. King's legacy, let us consider how powerfully his words spoken 47 years ago still speak to us today. To borrow again from Bill Tramposch, in a world that might seem without order or sense, knowing where we've been will provide the perspective and understanding to make decisions today. Our heritage gives us the reassurance that life will go on and that this "great experiment" that is our vibrant democracy will endure.