Every January since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law, millions of people have celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. Is his “dream” still alive, or has it become just an insipid phrase?
In his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King asked that the struggle for civil rights be “conducted on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” Also that “we do not drink from the cup of bitterness” or that we do not judge people “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” His dream was an America lifted out of “the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.” King meant this brotherhood for all people of every color, race and religion.
Today, to some groups and individuals, the speech Dr. King presented 50 years ago on Aug. 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is outdated because he was demanding justice and not special privileges; equality not preferment. And that is why those original demands were evoked and sustained by most fair-minded Americans.
We have not yet reached “that promised land,” but it is true that over the years a great deal has changed for the better. Most of that segregated America is gone, but, as long as there are two human beings, there will be prejudice of some kind. There are people of all colors and ethnicities in high office, local, state and federal.
For a brief period 50 years ago, Dr. King had his coalition, even though somewhat shaky, made up of people from all races, ethnicities, northerners, southerners, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals. They all sang “We are black and white together, we shall overcome.”
Over the past 50 years, King’s words of “a color-blind society” have become a hazy memory, dimmed by laws that have created a color-coded environment with racial quotas at work, in schools and in other walks of life. Politicians and self-appointed social leaders have changed the meaning of civil rights and turned it into just a classification.
Martin Luther King Jr. preached that his dream was rooted in the American dream, NOT in race, creed or class. But again, politicians and those self-appointed social leaders, for their own personal gain, have pitted race, creed, class against class and rich against poor. Now, the so-called rich are demeaned as greedy instead of job providers. As the song title of that period asks, “When Will They Ever Learn?”
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