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Has the Preacher’s Dream Prevailed?

An aspect of Rev. Martin Luther King’s service to our country that is often overlooked is that he was a preacher; one who stood for Biblical principles and godly living, and who understood that this great country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. While he was not perfect (as are none of us,) the thrust of his message was that taught by Jesus Christ. As Jerry and I were driving to Crestline yesterday, we heard a portion of his most famous speech, and Jerry remarked as to the quality of his speaking, and a conversation ensued in which we discussed that he was a Gospel preacher, and that that quality and method of delivery was ever apparent in his messages. Those in our society who chafe against the acknowledgment of our country’s being formed on these principles would do well to consider this aspect of Rev. King and his tremendous contributions to the United States of America.

But has the dream prevailed?

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 a table of brotherhood.

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

I have a dream that my four 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.

Answering my own question, I believe that since the days of Rev. King’s death, we have made progress toward the elimination of racial and other injustice. Certainly, racism still exists–in the white community, in the black, in the Hispanic, and probably in others–and, granted,  there are some so steeped in prejudice that it is likely they will go to their graves, tightly grasping the ugliness of prejudice. But there are others–the majority of us–who reject such influence and such mindset. Think about it. We now have a black President, a Latin Supreme Court Justice, and a female Secretary of State. Remember that in the 50s, federal troops were called in so that a black student could safely attend school. Yes, we’ve made progress, the dream is yet alive.

But we have many miles yet to go. Yesterday in my Sunday school classroom, a 9-year old slim, beautiful little girl, born to an interracial couple, said gaily to me, squirming and wiggling as such children are prone to do.

“I have a best friend.”

“You mean other than me?” I teased.

Startled, then recognizing the joke she smiled broadly and continued.”I have a best friend, and she really likes me.”

“That’s neat,” I said, encouraging her, for I sensed she had something important she wanted to say.

“She was going to come spend the night with me, but her mother wouldn’t let her.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Her mother doesn’t like black people.” She smiled and seemed to be not overly concerned.

The child’s father is black, and in the conversation that followed she explained: “People tell me I look mostly like my dad. I’m black like he is, but my face is like my mother’s.” She grinned as she told me this, continuing to work on her Sunday school papers with her slim brown hands.

My heart jerked, and I was instantly furious at the best friend’s mother who could be so cruel, so insensitive, so lacking in common sense as to judge a person by the color of her skin. I hugged that exceptionally sweet and charming little girl–hugged her tight, and said: “I love you just like you are. You are perfect, and you are just what God wanted, for He made you just the way you are.” I weep at this moment as I think of that charming nine-year-old child who so soon has felt the bitter sting of racial prejudice.

So, yes, I believe the preacher’s dream yet lives, but I understand we have a far distance to travel before its complete fulfillment.

I Have a Dream – Address at March on Washington
August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C.

“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 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 captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still 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 an appalling 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 would be guaranteed 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 the Negro people a bad 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 rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. 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 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 their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall 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 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 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 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 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, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, 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 a table of brotherhood.

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

I have a dream that my four 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 the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together 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 with which I return to the South. 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 peaks 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 every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let 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!”

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City of Montgomery–Warrant #14254

I love this land. I’m loyal to my country, I’m proud to be an American and I’m interested in its politics and its progressions. It angers me when I hear of its being demeaned and ridiculed. The United States of America is the greatest country on the face of the earth. My heart quickens at the sight of our beautiful flag aflutter against a pristine sky. I stand splendidly erect as I pledge allegiance to its red, white and blue, and, proudly, I belt out the words to The Star Spangled Banner. With passion and sincerity I sing the beautiful song, God Bless America.

But there is a part of our history of which I am deeply ashamed. The decades of absolutely inhumane treatment of our black people is an embarrassment. The ink that marks such story is a blight–a stain– on the history pages of the United States of America. It astonishes me to recall that it is our very recent history that speaks of such despicable acts as being common and acceptable among us–yeah, even the norm. It astounds me to recall that it was only in the year of 1955, the year I graduated from high school, that Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. Her crime? She would not move. She refused to rise from her seat and walk to the back of a city bus. It is nothing short of outrageous that she was expected to perform such a humiliating act. I regret that such a story accurately depicts a segment of my country’s history.

On December 1, 1955, during a typical evening rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42 year-old woman took a seat near the front of the bus on her way home from the Montgomery Fair department store where she worked as a seamstress. Before she reached her destination, she quietly set off a social revolution when the bus driver instructed her to move, and she refused. The bus driver called the police and they arrested Rosa Parks, an African American woman of unchallenged character. The African-American community of Montgomery organized a boycott of the buses in protest of the discriminating treatment they had endured for years. The boycott, under the leadership of 26-year-old minister Martin Luther King, Jr., was a peaceful, coordinated protest that lasted 381 days and captured world attention. Mrs. Parks, who passed away on October 24, was called the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” She was not the first person to be prosecuted for violating the segregation laws on the city buses, but it was her quiet act of defiance that touched a nerve in the black community of Montgomery, Alabama, and set in motion a historic act of resistance.

On this day as we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Martin Luther Kingand as I duly honor him, I wish also to commemorate the brave actions of Rosa Parks. What a courageous, splendid model of humanity she was. With what distinction she served us–the peoples of the United States of America. Her heroism is noted on the City of Montgomery Warrant #14254.

Images of documents and other material courtesy of the National Archives.

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