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Saturday, August 24, 2013

50 Years and America Needs a "Dream Speech" Just as Much Today

Listening to the replays of Dr Martin Luther King resonating "I Have a Dream" stirs emotions, memories and, sadly, feelings of inadequacy.  

"I Have a Dream", is a memorable Civil Rights clarion call to the nation, delivered a half century ago and celebrated in Washington DC this week. 

Dr. Martin Luther King 1929-1968

Have we really helped to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of equality for all?  Sadly, no; but we have made some progress.
Just some progress.  Although the ugly stigmas of segregation are largely eliminated, Blacks continue to feel isolated.  Just replay videos of the Hurricane Katrina evacuations in New Orleans to see how our nation's ghettos were hidden in plain sight, until they were forced into America's consciousness by a devastating natural disaster.

Maybe one reason Americans and, indeed, the world, are still captivated by Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is because we realize how we still need to hear it.

Dr. King's electric effectiveness in 1963 blended masterful speech inflections, speaking as though delivering an operatic soliloquy, coupled with a brilliant passion for freedom and complimented  by his charisma. 

In retrospect, the speech might even be better and more meaningful today then when King delivered it, at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, addressing thousands in the awed audience.

These are excerpts from what Dr. King said on August 28, 1963:

"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 is 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 100 years later the Negro still is not free." 

"One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still badly
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 in exile in his own land. So we've 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 great 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 to the inalienable 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 its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked 'insufficient funds'."

The excerpts demonstrate Dr. King's eloquence in articulating his vision for equality; but his poignant words also emphasize how inadequate Americans have been in responding to Dr. King's inspired vision.  Unbelievably, American voting rights are still being debated especially since our US Supreme Court recently decided our nation has moved beyond the racial issues that drove the urgency for the Voting Rights Act, signed in 1965.   This landmark piece of national legislation in the United States prohibits discrimination in voting.  But the US Supreme Court recently decided things aren't really so bad, after all.  Oh really? Our US Supreme Court justices must live in a racial utopia.  Voting rights are being seriously challenged today because Republicans want to do all they can to discourage people of color from achieving equal voting rights, because they want to control their ability to register and vote for Democratic candidates. Dr. King's dream was to see our Democracy succeed.  His struggle was for racial equality rather than for political advantage.  

It's sincerely disappointing to see voting rights morph into a political power struggle, especially, as Dr. King said, when our Founding Fathers created our nation to be a Democracy - with liberty and justice for all.   

On the anniversary of August 28th speech, the charismatic leader who will take the podium for the late Dr. Martin Luther King will be President of the United States Barack Obama. Yes, Dr. King's vision will be realized in the person of our nation's first African-American president.  Incredulously, however, many right wing zealous Americans have not accepted the legitimacy of our democratically elected President, demonstrating how our progress has been extraordinary, but ineffective.

Hopefully, President Obama will deliver an impassioned sequel to the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, when he commemorates the 50th anniversary on August 28, 2013.  As President, he'll embody Dr. King's dream.  Americans need to be reminded that Dr. King's vision for America has advanced, but we need to be inspired, again, about the dream.

"This is not 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 promise of democracy."

"Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice."

"Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."

To end, now is the time for President Obama to reignite the dream.

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