Words we can still live by

Published 12:08 pm Thursday, January 21, 2016

Monday was the nation’s day to pay tribute to the long struggle for equality by African Americans – for all Americans.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the only person waging a peaceful war on tyranny and injustice, but his is the face that first comes to mind when you think of all that was accomplished in the 1950s and ‘60s to gain civil rights for people who were not really freed from the shackles of bondage in the previous century. There is a reason his face and his voice are so deeply rooted in our consciousness as a nation.

A quarter of a million people were in our nation’s capital on Aug. 28, 1963 for the historic March on Washington – a gathering of people of all races and all backgrounds that is equaled in importance only by a much smaller gathering in Philadelphia more than 200 years earlier for the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the creation of a bold experiment in democracy.

Civil rights and workers’ rights groups gathered in Washington 50 years ago today to seek justice for the millions of Americans who were not allowed to live the American dream. These diverse groups were overjoyed that the young man who was getting all the national attention had agreed to be the last to speak that day and to limit his speech to four minutes.

Little did they know that Rev. King was going to deliver an address that would become the “joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.”

His “I have a dream” speech – which lasted for 16 minutes after he discarded his prepared speech – galvanized those diverse groups and people into a force for righteousness and moved a nation to finally free the people who were supposed to have been freed 100 years earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation.

From that moment on, “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination” were an abomination to most Americans – injustices that had to be purged because it was right and just and in keeping with the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Dr. King’s speech didn’t change the hearts of every person, but it illuminated the dark recesses of enough hearts and minds and spirits to forever change this nation and finally restore the bright promise of freedom, justice and equality that is America.

There are many great moments in American history, but there are three that have extended the boundaries of freedom and liberty far beyond anything that had come before in any civilization: The Continental Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation; and Dr. King’s “Dream”.

What a country! We have yet to realize the true depth of Dr. King’s dream, but we’re getting there. I’ll bet even he would be surprised to see how much things have changed in the 50 years since he so eloquently articulated his dream for America. Maybe one day race really won’t matter. Maybe one day the dream will be fully realized.

Maybe the “Black Lives Matter” groups will reach people so that the slogan “All Lives Matter” will become a reality in this nation, which 50 years after Dr. King’s speech has not yet seen an end to institutional racism.

Dr. King’s speech is beautiful and powerful. If you’ve never heard or read the entire speech, please do so. You can find it on the internet anytime you want. Savor the words for their beauty and listen to the content.

We need his vision for a more perfect union today as much as we needed it 50 years ago. We need it in “the fierce urgency of now.”


Keith Hoggard is a Staff Writer with Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at keith.hoggard@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.