Pursuing a dream for 50 years

Aug. 27, 2013 @ 07:00 PM

“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.”

 

Those rivetingly cadenced words, boomed from the Lincoln Memorial across the Washington Mall 50 years ago today, stand among the most memorable from one of the most unforgettable speeches of the 20th century.

Much has been said and spoken this past week, leading to today’s anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  It is a time to reflect on how far the country has come since – and how far we still have to go.

When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke, many jobs, restaurants, hotels, theaters, schools – the list goes on – were off-limits to African Americans.  Rest rooms and water fountains were labeled “white” and “colored”. Some apartment-for-rent ads in this newspaper carried the designation “colored” or “for colored,” suggesting that only those were available to those who were not white.

Within scant years of King’s stirring oratory, those overt forms of racism were outlawed, a tidal change wrought by an intense and often bloody struggle for a nation’s conscience.

Today, the time when racial segregation was the law in this and other southern states seems far removed in many ways, distant history to young adults and children. In other ways, it seems but an historical eye blink ago, well within the memories of anyone older than about 60.

As Floyd McKissick Jr. – whose father was among the leaders of the 1963 march – told The Herald-Sun’s April Dudash, “It’s rather amazing – what you begin to realize is how quickly 50 years can pass.  I’m part of the last generation in America that will remember segregation and apartheid as a part of our culture. And that’s a good thing in many respects, but the unfortunate part is that people who have come along since me do not realize the obstacles we’ve all overcome.”

Today, we do acknowledge those obstacles and celebrate those who helped to demolish them and to realize, largely if not completely, the dream a powerful leader challenged us with a half-century ago.