by Larry Peterson
Fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his now famous “I have a dream” speech in Washington D.C. A quarter of a million people stood and listened. Here are a few excerpts:
“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.”
“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.”
“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 snow-capped 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!”
Of course these are only several out of context remarks from that great speech. And it WAS a great speech. I dare say over the last fifty years we had come a long way in seeing Dr. King’s dream of joined hands between white and black people actually materialize. The Alabama mentioned in the speech is long gone. Governor George Wallace and his famous “Segregation now, Segregation Forever” inaugaral speech from January, 1963 seems almost surreal. We had come a long way. Barack Obama is the President. We have had and have black Supreme Court Justices. We have had a black man as Secretary of State and we have one as Attorney General. At present there are 43 African-Americans serving as congressmen and women and two as United States Senators.
We had come a long way and then, on February 26, 2012, a 17-year-old by the name of Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida by a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman. From “we HAVE come a long way” changed to “we HAD come a long way”. The race baiters pounced. Time to fan the flames of intolerance and hatred and spit in the face of everything Martin Luther King stood for. Even our own President of the United States dipped into the trough of animus and racism helping to divide a country that before Trayvon’s death had actually come together more so than anytime in our history. It was far from perfect but it was so much better. How sad to see all of that progress cast to the wind.
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King on this anniversary is a fine thing. But the people on the podium should not be using this man as camouflage for an agenda that flies in the face of everything he stood for. This can be a time to bring people together, to tamp out the flames of hatred, and to honor the progress we have made in race relations. There will always be the narrow minded, black and white, who harbor mindless and insensible prejudice based on skin color. It is not a perfect world. In his honor it is time to heal and spread the words once more of Martin Luther King, ““Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” His dream should not turn into a nightmare.