January 19, 2015

I Have A Dream

Today is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Later today, I'll be sitting in Verizon Center watching my beloved Washington Wizards destroy (I'm hoping here, but probably not unrealistically) the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. It's the second year in a row the Wizards have played the 76ers on this day. It should be a sure victory (I mean the Sixers are barely an NBA team at this point) preceded by a half day of work and a lunch with beer followed by more beer and some pool at a place I once loved but now just gets a once a year visit. Today's full itinerary will be the same as last year's agenda, which I documented in a post last January on this blog.

Today is not about basketball. The games today really take a back seat to remembering the legacy of Dr. King and what he and everyone else involved in the civil rights movement achieved. It's sad that we had to go through the civil rights movement at all, especially considering the United States prides itself so boastfully on equality and freedom. There should never have been separate rules for different races in the first place. While I am sure some folks in this country are proud of the progress that has been made, the events in Ferguson, Missouri and other places in the last few months have proved we have a long way to go here. Now is not time for rest. It's amazing that we are still talking about something which is a basic human right. I mean it's the 21st century, for crying out loud.

Last year, I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall and wrote about it in this blog as a way of commemorating this day and spending time to remember and broadcast a little something about Dr. King's life so that hopefully others may benefit from what I wrote and be reminded of what work is still left to be done. This year, I've decided to make the same commitment. By visiting the Lincoln Memorial.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. King stood on the top step of the podium to the Lincoln Memorial and delivered what is surely his most famous speech, the I Have A Dream speech, as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The March, which had been contemplated by a number of civil rights leaders since the 1940s, was intended to bring attention to the fact that despite black men having been granted voting rights for 100 years, there were still laws in the United States in the 1960s that institutionalized racial discrimination and fostered economic inequality between races in parts of this country. The March was also intended to lend vocal and visible endorsement to civil rights legislation proposed by President John F. Kennedy in June of 1963.

By most estimates, the March attracted a quarter of a million people. It is credited with being instrumental in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Voting Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Yes, we had to pass laws to make these things happen.

The speech itself was voted the top American speech of the 20th century in a poll of scholars of public address (who knew there was such a thing?). It references Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation and it is truly powerful. My family didn't live in the United States in 1963 but I like to think it would have made me ashamed to be a white American that year. Maybe that's presumptuous or arrogant of me to make such a statement but it sort of shames me even today. I can't believe the country that I love so much was so disrespectful and ignorant just 50 years ago.

Today, the spot where Dr. King stood and gave his speech on August 28, 1963 is commemorated with an engraving in the stone step and you can look out over the reflecting pool towards the Washington Monument and decide for yourself if we have really made all the progress in race relations that we should have made since that day over 50 years ago. I'm hoping your answer is no. Remember. That's all I ask for whoever reads this post today or in the future. And don't forget. Ever.

If you have 17 minutes and 28 seconds to spare today, I encourage you to watch Dr. King's speech that day. If you do not, the full text of the speech is below.
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. 

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. 

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. 

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. 

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. 

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. 

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. 

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. 

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. 

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. 

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. 

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. 

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. 

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." 

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! 
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! 
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! 
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! 
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! 
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. 
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
The view of the reflecting pool and Washington Monument on August 28. 1963...
…and today.

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