Around this time of the year, most of us will at least have a passing thought of the Rev. Martin Luther King. Dr. King's legacy includes books, letters, activism, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And who among us will forget the famous "I Have A Dream" speech?
The speech was a civil and dignified appeal to the better nature within the American national spirit. The moral clarity and beauty of the words shone through quotes borrowed from scripture, literature, Negro spirituals, popular songs and even the Declaration of Independence. The precise delivery from Dr. King ignited listener's hearts. This fire in hearts would turn Jim Crow into ashes.
The I Have A Dream speech called Americans to the ideals of our country's founders. Its soaring language and expressive metaphors forged a new standard in political speech making.
Yet in 1963, it was not well received by the mainstream of American culture. Opposition to racial equality was massive. The speech was barely mentioned on the national stage.
But the inspiration like fire spread the dream. Women took up a torch for racial fairness. Young people, particularly college students, protested many forms of unfairness. Citizens in the northern parts of the country looked at the South with distaste and embarrassment.
The passing of civil rights legislation in 1964 protected the rights of Americans in regard to race, color, religion, sex and national origin. In April 1965, a Gallup poll revealed 76 percent in favor of an equal voting rights law. The blaze had become a conflagration!
More than 50 years later , this speech moves some to tears. The average American child has learned a few lines of it at school, regardless of the child's race. And this speech along with King's legacy has moved into other nations of our world.
The moral authority of the I Have A Dream speech comes from its respect for all. The speech decries discrimination, but still invites all to join the vision of racial equality. The reverend tells us, "With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."
In this speech, King startles listeners with his unyielding belief in the American Constitution.
His words ring into history, "When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note .... This note was a promise that all men, black men as well as white men would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Yet, these powerful words did not work their way into the mainstream of our national culture until King was assassinated. And without his death, King may have been headed into obscurity.
During his lifetime, Dr. Martin Luther King was never well received. His life was marked by a proliferation of enemies and critics. The FBI, racist members of Congress and the House, law enforcement officials in the South, mainstream media and even black people moving toward the black power message all opposed him. His Gallup approval rating was 33 percent in 1965 and dropping as allegations of his supposed Communist ties swept the country.
In this, the 50th year after the assassination of Dr. King, we must seriously consider these words delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:
"Many of our white brothers have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.", "They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom."
And it is.
More than ever in 2018, we need to hold all of the executive branches accountable to uphold the Constitution for everyone. Fifty-five years after MLK's speech, all politicos would be well served to return to his kind of moral clarity regarding race. And they should study him and learn how to give an inspiring speech.
Watch the I Have A Dream at: https://youtu.be/I47Y6VHc3Ms
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Rachel is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.