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August 28 1963, about 250,000 men and women, black and white, Marched On Washington side by side, in what would become known as one of the most defining moments in history. The day culminated in the most definitive speech ever given. The speaker was a preacher from Georgia, his name was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and he was 34 years old.
The “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. King spoke to generations and people far beyond the American borders, it was a call for freedom and demand of justice and equality for all people regardless of skin colour. It was a challenge to the government to make good on the promises made when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on the 1st of January 1863, freeing all slaves.
Dr. King’s way was one of peace, even in the eye of a struggle violence was never a resolution. He called for voices to be raised as one regardless of the suffering, for those who are willing to fight to “continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive“. Dr King believed in that unifying quality of humanity; the power of love, which supersedes all else. In December of 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
His speech came in the midst of Apartheid in South Africa, the country was fighting its own racial segregation and oppression which saw the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and several others. I have some recollection on the struggle in South Africa and they were ugly times, scary times, a time of deep sadness for humankind and still the fight went on. It is evident that the dream Dr. King spoke of did not end in Washington on that day in 1963, this is a speech that has lived on in places far and away. His call for the continued fight against oppression in the midst of hate and injustice was answered by some of the bravest men and women in history. We have come a long way 50 years on, but in light of cases like Trayvon Martin, before that Oscar Grant III, the repeal of Section Four of the Voting Rights Act, its obvious that the journey must continue on in order to realise this Dream, because these incidents echo the sentiments of some of the darkest days in human history.
Besides the impetus the speech gave to the Civil Rights Movement in America, Dr. King’s speech defined the 20th century, has remained even more pertinent in the 21st and will continue to remain important for centuries to come. What’s more, in today’s society, Civil Rights is more than just a Black and White issue, it is an issue of freedom, equality and justice for all men and women regardless of their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, race and class. It is about seeing the person before the colour of their skin, seeing the person as you see yourself, as equal, regardless of their beliefs. Civil Rights encompasses the equation of economic justice, an inherent tenet of the American Dream, which Dr. King noted in his speech. Tenets which racial segregation laws of Jim Crow served to impede; laws which empowered a system that sought to enslave and impoverish. This was what the March On Washington fought against. The Dream Dr. King hoped would one day come true-
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 out in 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 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 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; that one day right down 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 engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
May this dream never be forgotten, for it is my dream and your dream too. Long live the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. the man who had a Dream of a better tomorrow.