On Wednesday the nation will mark the 50th anniversary of what many consider the greatest speech of the 20th century, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech made at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out over a crowd of over 250,000 civil rights supporters, King laid out the issues facing the nation, that the promise of freedom and equality was unfulfilled for its black citizens. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence were “a promissory note,” he said.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned,” King said.
After citing the sacrifices, jailings, beatings and injustices many in the audience had suffered in that “sweltering summer of discontent,” King rallied them with an extemporaneous riff on a theme he had preached on many times before.
” 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 a table of brotherhood….
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character….”
It is a speech that still inspires us, and still challenges us. We are closer to the realization of that dream that we were 50 years ago, but how close are we? It is a question we should ask ourselves this week, as we see the image of King at the Lincoln Memorial and hear his eloquent, passionate words repeated. Is it still just a dream? How can we make it come true?