Martin Luther King Jr. seen during his “I Have a Dream” speech.
It is hard to believe that 50 years have passed since the iconic words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech echoed from the base of the Lincoln Memorial on that sweltering August day in 1963 – as a diverse crowd 250,000 strong sang in unison “We shall Overcome Someday” as they marched on the nation’s capitol in the hopes of a better America.
As a child of 6, I could scarcely comprehend the inherent meanings of the march or the prospect that civil rights would one day hold for me or my children’s children.
But even as a youngster, I knew that I had not been spared the degradation of discrimination or the shame of second class citizenship that had precipitated the protestations at North Carolina lunch counters, on freedom rides bound for Mississippi or on a Bloody Sunday on a bridge in Alabama.
Nor could I deny the images of rabid dogs, wailing billy clubs, and pressurized water hoses that met non-violence with a type of licensed force that leapt from the pages of EBONY and LIFE magazines and from my TV console any more than I could deny my own grandfather’s murder at the hands of hatred long before my birth.
For 1963 America, the ring of freedom lay silenced by vitriol and a ‘way of life’ that had been handed down like grandma’s good china from one generation to the next with no expectation of egalitarianism or reparations for its most constrained constituents – unchained yet shackled a mere 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
America had a long way to stretch her hand from the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the enacting of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the face of moral fortitude, the 1963 America that I had been dealt, collapsed like a house of cards.
The march then was about the twin peaks of jobs and freedom.
But, freedom could not ring from the mountain tops without a breaking down of institutional ideologies that vaunted the color of a man’s skin above the content of his character. It could not yield its resonate sound without the reconstructing of an economic system that granted equal pay for equal work or a legal framework that guaranteed equal protection under its laws.
Examining the Dream through the prism of age with wisdom and experience informing my perspective, it appears that we had arrived at a point this summer where everything new seems old again.