Fifty years on, Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech continues to fuel struggles for equality and justice.
It is possible that we are living the dream. Markets abound with supplies to meet the needs of demand. From masala to marriages, everything is available with variations, priced and packaged.
I want to share a dream that has made it to the list of the 20th century’s Best Speeches: I have a dream by Martin Luther King Jr. And just for a moment on August 28, stop and think, about being part of a world dream, not just the American one.
But first there was the nightmare. In the words of Harry Belafonte, the matinee idol and singer, and social activist: “Like many black American men of my generation, I had lived through two defining moments: …born into the Great Depression and … fought … against the Nazis in the second world war.” But on returning to the U.S. he felt taunted by the political evils of the colour bar — racial segregation and apartheid, particularly in the southern States — and a denial of basic human rights.
Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was a catalyst and a torch bearer of the Civil Rights movement of 1968. On December 1, 1955, returning from work in Montgomery, Alabama, she made an extraordinary choice. She was on a bus and due to segregation, blacks had to give up their seats to whites. Rosa, instructed to do so by the bus conductor who had the power of the police, decided not to give up her seat; both because her feet hurt and because it was a fundamental right. It was a non-violent action, of passive resistance based on her decision that racial segregation had to end. She was convicted, found guilty, and fined. But it led to her becoming a social activist and raising the banner and participation of women, children, educated and unemployed blacks, and whites to join Martin Luther King Jr. toward the protest march in Washington DC on August 28, 1963. Listen and watch, at http://thne.ws/martinspeech.
It was a time for change to ‘rise from the quick sand of racial injustices’, proclaimed in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, who fought the first war against slavery. The sea of thousands of men and women, many wearing Gandhi caps, influenced by the Mahatma’s struggle for human rights; independence through non-violence as a world truth.
The content and cadence of the speech is immediate, with a call-response of halleluiahs of consent. Even after 50 years, it stirs the soul and will continue to be heard because defining justice is an ongoing struggle generation after generation. There is no room for complacency.
“I have a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves will sit down in brotherhood… that my children be not judged by the colour of their skin but the content of their character… Free at last, free at last! Thank God almighty, Free At last!”
Despite diversity and equal opportunities, not enough Black Literature and History is accessible. This is not for the Black cause alone. It is not just about amendments in any constitution. It is, as we say in theatre in Britain, ‘the three minute call’; we have to be alert, totally focused, totally present, totally committed to participating in the cause, generation after generation.
My first memory of radical empathy was at age 12. On the first day of school, Mrs. Jackson — the first Black teacher of Literature at Woodrow Wilson High School — placed ‘A Dream Deferred’, a poem by Langston Hughes: What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?/Or fester like a sore--/And then run?/Does it stink like rotten meat?/Or crust and sugar over--/like a syrupy sweet?/Maybe it just sags/like a heavy load./Or does it explode?
To dream is the ability to be real.