Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.--What Made His Dream so Profound
The message Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for is his “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington’s history. One profound line in this speech: “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.”
Consider the time in history that he said these words. Then, blacks in the South lived under a system of segregation known as the Jim Crow laws. They resulted in racial segregation in all public facilities, supposedly with “separate but equal” status for blacks. These laws effected economic, educational and social disadvantages, and they were a daily reminder that African Americans were not regarded as being equal to whites.
Attempts by blacks, and whites who joined them in the marches, to protest the injustices of their day were met with fierce opposition. The protesters were subjected to jail time, dogs, high pressure water hoses, police brutality, house burnings, even murder. Dr. King received death threats throughout the time of his civil rights work.
The Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964, which outlawed major forms of discrimination against blacks and women, including racial segregation. In the following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices, the result of which had been widespread disenfranchisement for African Americans. But King’s “I Have a Dream” speech predated both of these landmark pieces of legislation. This means that as he stood before the Lincoln Memorial and articulated his dream over 47 years ago, African Americans had no legal vehicle by which to leverage positive change on the national level.
So, which of these aforementioned conditions do you suppose inspired Dr. King to believe that the realization of his dream was possible? What was the vehicle by which he saw any encouraging light at the end of the tunnel? I say none of the above. Yet against the backdrop of those dark times, and after all he had endured, he could see America stepping into her moral best. Not in the distant future, but in the very generation of his then-young children. To me, that's what makes his dream so profound. And I’m just wondering, if he were here today, how would he judge our progress toward the realization of his dream?