by user Ayd
What Happens to a dream deferred?
Maybe it just sags like
Or does it explode?
-- Langston Hughes
A little over a week ago I was sitting on an airplane listening to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech." I had downloaded it from a website called Learnoutloud (www.learnoutloud.com). I can't remember having listened to or read the entire speech before, having only heard or learned about the highlights in school. As I listened to the speech, it struck me how much of what Dr. King said today, and how little of his vision we had actually achieved.
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
This was the first thing that struck me. Clearly, the basic tenant of Dr. King's speech have been achieved, that is the basic freedom of Black people, the end of Jim Crow. However, looking around the country, it is still overwhelmingly true that Black people still live in an island of poverty. In 2003, the last year I had data for, so if you have something more recent please post it as a comment, the poverty rate among people who listed their only race as black, was 24.4%. In comparison, White people had 8.2%, 11.% for Asians, and 22.5% for Hispanics. (http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/income_wealth/002484.html)
Black poverty was exposed following Hurricane Katrina. It was the Black poor of Louisiana and Mississippi who were left behind to die. It was the Black poor who was left behind. It was the Black poor who was suffering at the Superdome. This was the type of poverty and racial inequality that Dr. King and an entire generation of civil rights activists was fighting against. It wasn't just the right to sit on the front of the bus. It was a fight to rise the Black people of Louisiana and Mississippi out of extreme poverty, a situation we still find them in today.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
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. 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. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
This raises a very simple question. Where is the fight today? Our struggle for civil rights is in a defensive mode. Instead of pushing to continue the struggle for true equality, we are in a defensive mode, trying to stave off attempts to end affirmative action. In the summer of 1963 there was an urgency, but as is the same with so many struggles for equality, the momentum stops well short of the ultimate goal. The images of Bull Conner and his fire hose, the story of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, galvanized a nation, north and south, east and west, and Jim Crow was defeated. But so much more was left to be done. The fine print. The stuff that would prove much harder because simple changes in the law was not the objective. But Black leaders were murdered and undermined and White conservatives started a backlash against all civil rights movements, particularly for race and gender equality. And today, with so much left to do, the photos of Katrina, and the stories of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, and Ousmane Zongo have failed to rekindle our fight for basic equality.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Here Dr. King makes an important distinction between the right to vote, and having someone to vote for. Certainly, the right to vote is one of the achievements of the civil rights movement. Although, as I will discuss shortly, creative ways have been found to depress the Black vote. But Dr. King also talks about having something, or someone to vote for. He talks about such distrust and frustration with the system that Black people have nothing to vote for.
One of my frustrations with politics, and indeed today's civil rights community, is that people seem to have forgotten about the struggle. While affirmative action and the disparity in health care remain a central part of the Democratic agenda, there are so many Race issues that just aren't talked about enough today. The Death Penalty is an issue of race that politicians are scared to attack for fear of looking soft on crime. Along those lines, or criminal justice system as a whole, and particularly the war on drugs, are issues of race that people are afraid to address. Poverty, ghettos, and gun violence are all issues of race that we have made so little progress in fighting. What would Dr. King think if he were alive today to witness that the Death Penalty was overwhelmingly used on Blacks and Hispanics. What would Dr. King think about the shacks of Mississippi and the ghettos of New York. What would Dr. King think about the level of gun violence in Black communities and the level of black on black crime. And most importantly, what would Dr. King thing about the paltry attempts that are being made in Washington, and in state legislatures to address these societal ills.
It is not just a matter of having the political will to address these ills. As I said, although the right to vote is one of the signature achievements of the civil rights movements, creative ways to depress the black vote have been found. One of the most common is laws prohibiting voting by felons. This brings together so many of the things previously mentioned. Poverty, police, the drug war, gun violence, and fatalistic thinking. We live in a society that criminalizes certain behavior, and because of that criminalization, takes away the right to vote. Not surprisingly, this has an overwhelming affect on the Black community. As of 2004, 4.7 million Americans, 13% of which were Black, were denied the right to vote because they were felons. The 13% for Blacks was seven times the national average. (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/11/opinion/11SUN1.html?ex=1247284800&en=1ff1291f81330c2a&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland) You can't deny the politics involved. Black people vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. For the most part, the people pushing for criminalization of certain behavior, and then purging the voting rolls of felons, are Republicans. Thus, purging the voting rolls of Black voters is a way to help Republicans get elected. This was a story in 2000 Florida, and it was a story in 2004 Ohio. Perhaps I see a conspiracy where the isn't one. But the way I see it we tolerate poverty and lack of opportunity for minorities, we criminalize behavior that predominantly pertains to minorities, we strip felons of the right to vote, and then we call anyone who wants to change it "soft on crime."
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
The final question I have, is does anyone still have a dream. Does anyone still dream of equality or have we reached the point where we have achieved what we will, and any other achievements will have to come by sheer momentum alone. Have we abandoned the urgency of equality? Where is the next Dr. King. Where is the next person who can galvanize a nation in order to finish a job that ended prematurely. Freedom does ring in the sense that segregation as law has been defeated. But Freedom's ring has been muted by the defacto segregation in our nation's cities and schools. Freedom does ring in the sense that there are Black people in the House of Representatives. But freedom's ring is muted by the fact that all of them represent majority minority districts. Dr. King's basic dream, that we will judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin has not been achieved. And so today, on Martin Luther King Jr. day. In a new era, with a new leadership in Congress, I send out my hope that we can finish the job. I send out hope that we can give more than just lip service to the true issues of racial inequality that afflict our nation.
Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow -- Langston Hughes
crossposted at www.angryyoungdem.blogspot.com