Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I have a dream....

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the I Have a Dream speech by Dr. Martin Luther King.

I was alive in 1963, but was still in the bassinette.

Still, the speech was one of the most profound documents of my school years, the modern day equivalent of the Gettysburg Address and studied as such.

I grew up in a small town in Canada.  There were no black people in that little town and because of that, I didn't have my first black friend until I moved to the city in my teen years.

But we studied that speech in that little town, we learned about the civil rights movement, we followed the unfolding unrest in the U.S. as if it was happening in our own backyard.  Which, in effect, it was.  We saw black men and women and children struggling on the evening news every night, even as we became friends with the black performers on our favourite TV shows in the evening: Diahann Carroll in Julia, Flip Wilson, Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek, Bill Cosby in I-Spy, to name a few.

Much has happened since 1963, and for the better.  Much still needs to be done.

The first time I saw footage of Dr. King making this speech, I had goose bumps.  I watched it again this morning, for the umpteenth time, and got them again.  I get them every time.  There are some universal truths that can never be told too many times.  The tenets of the speech may have been written for the cause Dr. King championed, but they are equally applicable to Syria, Egypt, Gay Rights (insert your own human rights cause here). 

When people rise to their times, when people speak their truths, when people have the courage of their convictions, well we all just benefit.

It is worth it to take a moment to read the text of this speech or watch the video.  Dr. King had a dream; it is us that must continue to work to bring that dream to life...

The video:


The speech:

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 languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we've 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. And so, we've 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 quicksands 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. And 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. And 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. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And 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 self-hood 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."¹
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. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- 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.
And 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, and 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."2
This is our hope, and 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.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with 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.
And 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, and when we allow freedom 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!3
Have a wonderful day and as always - stay safe out there!


  1. I have goosebumps, too. Every time. See "Lee Daniels' The Butler". It's a powerful story of one family during this era ( and the cast is amazing!). Thanks for this, W.

    1. I am heading to see that later in the week - can't wait!

  2. That is one of my favorite speeches. I went to Memphis and went to the hotel where he got assassinated and they had the speech playing in the museum of civil rights and it is just so moving. He was one of the best orators ever.

    1. What a trip that would have been! I must go south!

  3. Thanks SO much for this post!!!! You're right, "much still needs to be done."

    1. Thanks Rynetta! It is a good reminder that we still have mountains to climb...

  4. Goosebumps indeed. Thanks for posting this Wendy.

    1. You are so welcome! Gotta mix my frippery with the odd substance!

  5. I just finished reading updates about Syria, so your moving post really resonated with me. Thank you, WMM. Enjoy your day!

    1. Thanks Knityarns! I hate to see them go into Syria, I hate to see them not! But surely those people have suffered enough....

  6. A few years ago on one of our NYC trips, Hubs and I took a day trip to Washington. We saw all the war memorials, Capitol building, the Lincoln Memorial, etc. and stood at the spot where MLK made his speech, looking out on the reflecting pool (just like that scene in Forrest Gump! ha ha) It was moving though because you could imagine all the people there and the strength & conviction it took to make that speech, esp. back in '63.

    1. We did that, too, and it was awe-inspiring!

  7. This is indeed really moving. My heart swells with pride every time I think of MLK and millions of anonymous heroes that have been fighting for equality. The world is so permeated by white privilege that it is difficult to think about what true equality looks like. My dream is to live in a world in which patriarchy, white privilege, ethnocentrism and heteronormativity are no longer what's proper. Like Howard Zinn always said, history is written by the winners, and my dream is to live in a world where multiple histories can exist in the mainstream.
    This is a frequent topic of conversation at Chez AB, since my research centers in understanding the politics of oppression, and their representations in film and media pertaining to race, gender and sexuality. The key, I think, is education. Ok, that was a mouthful. I think I have to get used to understanding that I can self publish academic papers in other people's blogs :)

    1. that was meant to say can't self publish in other people's blogs!

    2. Nope - feel free! Really interesting! Having come off of 3 weeks of deepak and spreading the love, every bit of goodness helps!

    3. As I work on my dissertation, I have been really struggling with trying to elucidate what true equality looks like. In trying to negotiate my love for cultural relativism yet my strong moral compass, I have come to the conclusion that it may be an elusive term, and that it may be wiser to think of equalities rather than equality. It's a little dismaying to say the least to realize that we may never achieve that in our current state of socialization. I don't know what the right answer is and that troubles me, but I keep fighting to achieve a version of equality informed by those around me and my own experiences. My poor husband, who is an engineer, is fascinated by the ideas or privilege and oppression. He always says he is in awe of the humanities, since in the sciences there is always a right answer. If only! I am really torturing him with my philosophical debates lately :)
      I need to reconnect with Deepak. I try to be all about love and kindness!

  8. Still an incredible speech, I think the most passionate and heart rending of all time. And the repitition just makes sure it stays in your mind. The dream has come a long way...but still needs to go a lot further, even here in Oakland (or maybe especially here in Oakland)

    1. Jody - you are so right - we need this everywhere!

  9. It's still moving to hear and read those words. I grew up with many black friends and I dated a couple of black men as well, one of whose father is a pastor. No matter your ancestry, everyone should attend a predominantly black church in the South at least once in their life. It's an experience that I always find stirring.

    1. Just added that to my bucket list!

  10. Dr. King's words still give me chills. So does Congressman John Lewis's stirring call to action (Congressman Lewis was then the chairman of SNCC and an organizer of the March).

    1. You are right Fred - that one often gets overlooked!

  11. That is a truly inspiring speech. Gives me tingles, too.

    1. Hi Ruth - it is truly wonderful, isn't it?


Kindness is a virtue...