Remember the dream, but realize it is yet to be fulfilled

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963

Those words, followed by an emotional, effective repetition of “I have a dream …” — uttered 50 years ago today — insured that the nation would not return to “business as usual” the next morning.

King’s speech at the memorial of the Great Emancipator, and the visual images of 250,000 people of various races and faiths gathered on the National Mall, had awakened the conscience of America and marked a new beginning.

Even President John F. Kennedy, who had advised against such a mass demonstration, was moved by what he watched on television from the White House, and he became even more committed to the passage of a civil rights bill he had announced in a speech to the nation just a couple of months earlier.

There are many today who know the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” only through their history books and the History Channel. Still, there are still plenty of people alive today who have it clearly stamped in their memory because they lived the experiences that King talked about that hot August afternoon.

In Texas and other southern states African Americans were still forced to go to segregated schools, drink from water fountains marked “Colored,” denied access to the ballot box, refused equal public accommodations and jobs and barred from public buildings and spaces that their tax dollars helped pay for.

Yes, those signs have come down, public schools and universities have since been integrated, more blacks have been elected to public office and doors once closed in America’s businesses have been opened.

But on this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, no realistic person would suggest that there has been enough progress for people of color or other ethnic or disadvantaged groups in America. The King dream still has not been fulfilled.

We have daily reminders that the issue of race is still a wedge that divides the country, and the economic and education chasms between racial groups seem to grow wider.

And yet, King would be pleased by some of the achievements we’ve made as a nation since he spoke those words a half century ago, not the least of which is the fact that the nation elected its first black president.

On Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama will stand where King stood in 1963, with the giant statue of Abraham Lincoln looking over his shoulder, and speak of his hopes and dreams for a great democracy that’s still evolving.

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