When I was studying relevant events from the spring of 1963, I was of course drawn to Dr. King’s funeral service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Upon watching the video of the service, I was interested in the recording of a sermon by Dr. King called the Drum Major Instinct, the audio of which was played during his service. I was taken aback when the text of that sermon was missing the biblical references and passages as spoken by Dr. King. Someone had removed the scripture which was the basis of the sermon. Well, that portion has been restored in my post, partially for the religious aspect and for the insight on human nature. I also thought as I listened to the service” Why was Martin Luther King killed. I will leave nothing out in respect to that question nor will I frivolously insert nonsense; not to lead the parade but to keep the moral compass pointed toward the truth, where Dr. King would have wanted it to be.
Martin Luther King
This morning I would like to use as a subject from which to preach The Drum Major Instinct.
The Drum Major Instinct.
And out text for this morning is taken from a very familiair passage in the tenth chapter as recorded by St. Mark beginning with the thiry-fifth verse of that chapter, we read these words, ” And James and Joh nthe sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we should desire.” And he said unto them, ” what would ye that I should do for you?” And they said unto him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the the other on thy left hand in thy glory.
But Jesus said unto them. “Ye know not what ye ask: Can you drink of the cup I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him “We can.” And Jesus said unto them ye shall indeed drink of the cup I drink of, and with. And the baptism that I am baptized with all shall be baptized. But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give. But it shall be given them for whom it is prepared.
And Jesus goes onto the end end of that passage to say, ” But so shall it not be among you: But whosoever will be great among you. shall be your servant: and whosoever of you be cheifest shall be the servant of all.”
The setting is clear. James and John are making a specific request of the master. They had dreamed as most of the Hebrews dreamed of a coming king of Israel who would set Jersusalem who would set Jerusalem free and establish his kingdom on Mount Zion and inrightousness rule the world. And they thought of Jesus as this kind of king. And they were thinking of that day when Jesus would rein supreme as this new king of Israel. And they were saying when you establish your kingdom, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other sit on the left hand of your throne. Now very quickly we condemn James and John, and we would say they were selfish. Why would they make such a selfish request?
But before we condem them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at outselves. And we will discover the we to have those same basic desires for recognition and importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first. Of course the other deciples got mad at James and John and you could understand why, but we must understand the we have those same James and John qualties. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It is a kind of Drum Major Instinct— To be out front. To lead the parade, A desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamnut of life.
And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct.
We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.
And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they have innately the drum major impulse or the drum major instinct.
Now, in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don’t believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don’t deserve it and even if they don’t believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.
Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are “joiners.” You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it’s really a quest for attention and recognition and importance. And they get names that give them that impression. So you get your groups, and they become the “Grand Patron,” and the little fellow who is henpecked at home needs a chance to be the “Most Worthy of the Most Worthy” of something. It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in.
There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. And that’s where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted. I guess that’s the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality. If it isn’t harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. Have you ever heard people that—you know, and I’m sure you’ve met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves? And they just boast and boast and boast, and that’s the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct.
Now the other thing is, that it leads to tragic—and we’ve seen it happen so often—tragic race prejudice. Many who have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem. Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. And they have said over and over again in ways that we see with our own eyes. In fact, not too long ago, a man down in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. And so God being the charter member means that everybody who’s in that has a kind of divinity, a kind of superiority. And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man’s inhumanity to man.
And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn’t happen to stop this trend, I’m sorely afraid that we won’t be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. If somebody doesn’t bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody’s going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don’t let anybody fool you, this can happen within a matter of seconds. They have twenty-megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China.
But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. “I must be first.” “I must be supreme.” “Our nation must rule the world.” And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.
God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.
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. 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.
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
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.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. 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. And that’s all I want to say.
Fitton Books by Robert P. Fitton
American Injustice-volumes 1 and 2 available spring of 2022.