Fifty years ago today (August 28, 1963) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. The March on Washington and his “I have a dream” speech altered the trajectory of American society. The pundits and news outlets will give their opinion as to what this day means. Those who took part in it will share their reflections. You may have some yourself.
As a person who is less than fifty years old, I find it difficult to say what this day means. As someone who has enjoyed more benefits of white privilege than I am even aware of – it is difficult to assess how much we have overcome (and what we have not) in the last fifty years. As a historian, I am interested in the shaping of events and how defining moments for an individual can impact a community. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Right Act were signed into law in 1964 and 1965 respectively the years following the March on Washington. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. These facts create meaning in themselves. As an American I am proud of one of our own who furthered the cause of freedom. As a preacher I can only admire King’s brilliance and mastery of both oratory and imagery that wove together his present context with the hope his faith provided for a better future.
I can describe the world I’ve lived in. I grew up in a community where I had black friends and teammates as well Hispanic friends and teammates who played alongside white ones. Race was an ever-present part of that interconnection, but it always seemed to me – whatever someone’s ethnicity or circumstances – hard work was a value that inevitably paid off. As I went through the academic stages of college, seminary and graduate study I had friends, classmates and academic advisors of Indian or Pakistani background who on a daily basis had to prove their value by the content of their character far more than I ever have, or likely ever will. I have an aunt from South Korea. We have had neighbors from China and people we have gotten to know from just about everywhere. In high school I took a pilot course on multicultural awareness that eventually made its way into the curriculum. Perhaps fifty-years ago I would not have had the opportunity to make these friends or it would have been a faux pas to even converse with them, so at least in this regard times have changed quite a bit. But below the surface I am willing to assert – racism still persists everywhere and pervades everything however blatant or subtle; especially as our monolithic understanding of our society is challenged by the multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious reality that continues to unfold itself around us in conflict – whether it is in the news, or in our experience.
Dr. King’s dream that one day all men will be created equal still evades us – from how crime is policed, tried and punished; how government operates from town, state to national offices; how policy is written, presented, challenged and voted upon; how diversity is enforced in some ways while equality eludes us in so many others; and how we take notice where and how people live that has many implications. Much of these challenges are overlooked by those of us who are white, middle-class and live in affluent areas – not because we don’t care – but because of our white privilege we don’t even see the issues, challenges, and hardships around us because we have never had to experience them ourselves. Dr. King still pushes us to see.
Now is the time: to listen; to remember; to connect; to hope; to see; to pray … and to keep on dreaming.
Dr. King’s speech highlighted a verse from the prophet Amos –
(Here is the longer citation:)
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:20-24)
Listen to Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech here:
Get a book – A Gift of Love – Sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr.
10 Fascinating Facts About the March on Washington (from Yahoo):
Meet a neighbor – all you have to do is go outside…
The ELCA’s social statement on Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries: