A Black President, more elected officials, still more work to be done.
It was five decades ago on Aug. 28 that the premier civil rights conscience of America stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to ask America to make good on its promise of equality for African Americans.
Little did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. know that 50 years after his historic dream speech about the need for content of character to supersede skin color, that there would be an African American president.
And thus on Aug. 28, 2013, President Barack Obama will speak at the commemoration of the “Let Freedom Ring” rally at the Lincoln Memorial to honor King’s call for justice and equality. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will also join the nation’s first Black president in what will be a somber reflection of how far America has come under the dream of the drum major for justice.
“Martin Luther King’s unforgettable speech inspired millions of Americans to make a deeply personal commitment to racial equality and economic justice. Its wisdom and power continues to inspire us today. I’m honored to lend my voice to this important celebration of one of our greatest leaders and most historic days,” said former President Bill Clinton in a White House release.
Former President Jimmy Carter said, “It is an honor to participate in this ceremony as we remember a great man, a heroic leader and a noble message that still rings as true today as it did 50 years ago. This commemorative event is an opportunity to speak about Dr. King’s dream of equal rights and equal opportunity for all. Dr. King’s legacy remains an inspiration for us all on this special anniversary and will continue to for generations to come.”
Several organizations and civil rights groups are planning massive commemorative events beginning this week in Washington and around the country, including a rally Saturday, Aug. 24, led by Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King Jr. III at the Lincoln Memorial to remember not only King’s “I Have a Dream” speech but also the significance of racial and economic justice for Black people.
“I’m honored to meet my father’s call to ‘Let freedom ring’ with President Obama, President Clinton and President Carter,” said Bernice A. King, chief executive officer of The King Center. “Together with people across America and the world, we will pause to mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, affirming the unity of people of all races, religions and nations.”
Congressman John Lewis, the iconic civil rights leader from Georgia, was one of the leaders of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was sixth in the line of speakers. King was the final speaker. In an interview with the Library of Congress magazine’s latest edition, Lewis explained the impact of King’s speech and how it led to an invitation to the White House by President John F. Kennedy.
“His speech was amazing. He turned the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial into a modern-day pulpit. We did not have a sense of the magnitude of that day, at the time, but he knew — and we knew — he had made an impact. After the speeches were over, people were still coming to the National Mall from all over America. We were invited to the White House by President Kennedy. He met us at the door of the Oval Office and he was standing there almost like a beaming father. He shook hands with each speaker and said to each one, “You did a good job.” And when he got to Dr. King he said, “And you had a dream.”
On Saturday, Lewis will be among several deputies of the Civil Rights Movement to recall the work and impact of the man who stood side by side with them to confront the injustices that once confined Blacks to second-class citizenship in America.
Since Obama’s election, some historians and members of the Black intelligentsia have said that even though his election is a product of King’s dream, it is not a fulfillment of the dream.
In the Library of Congress interview Lewis answered it this way: “We have come a long way, down a very long road toward accomplishing this ideal, but we are not there yet. We still have a great distance to go before we realize the true meaning of Dr. King’s dream.”
Professor Clarence Davis, the head of the Washington, DC Office of Public Records and a leading historian, said it is significant to highlight the contributions of Congressman Lewis “because of his heroic and gallant role in the Civil Rights Movement.”
Lewis was national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the youngest speaker at the March on Washington who was introduced by the venerable A. Philip Randolph.
“Congressman Lewis’ legacy is etched in the Selma to Montgomery March Bloody Sunday in 1965 when he was brutally beated,” Davis said. “His long and continued commitment to the struggle for freedom, justice and equality merits special recognition.”
Davis is hosting a special recogntion for Lewis at his home in Washington, DC with participants from around the country including the prominent African American fraternity Phi Beta Sigma and other Black leaders.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his own words
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle, the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless you back is bent.”
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”