Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Today in History: Martin Luther King, Jr., Has a Dream

Today in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his "I Have a Dream Speech" in Washington, D.C. Videos of the speech are available online, but the family of Dr. King owns the copyright to the speech, and I have not embedded one of these videos in this posting for that reason. The American Rhetoric website has an audio version and the full text.

For BBC, Gary Younge offers commentary, noting that though the speech itself is in some ways not King's most spectacular, the way in which he delivered it changed history. As Younge says, it was if some "powerful cosmic force" took over as King began to speak--and history cracked wide open as a result. 

At Box Turtle Bulletin today, Jim Burroway remembers that the march on D.C. at which King delivered his history-making speech was organized by the prophetic gay black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. But because Rustin was gay (and a socialist), many of those working with King to plan the march insisted that Rustin be kept in the background of the event, and his contribution as the major organizer hidden. It is only now being explored and celebrated in wider and wider circles, as it becomes known and as the contributions of gay folks to history are being acknowledged.

As Nicholas Burns insists in today's Boston Globe, with his insistence in this speech and others that American democracy is an unfinished project, a yet-to-be-realized experiment in human rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., is among the founding fathers of the nation:

Throughout the lonely years of the civil rights struggle, King embraced the power of language in his ministry to the nation. In reworking a powerful statement by the nineteenth century Boston abolitionist, the Rev. Theodore Parker, Kingnever let us forget a central truth that Obama later evoked on the campaign trail in 2008: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
It must have been this deep reservoir of faith that brought King to his brilliant, beautiful, lyrical, rousing vision on that hot day in Washington 50 years ago. 
"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."
Martin Luther King Jr., founding father.

And, of course, that dream of promises fulfilled, of a democracy that affords the full range of human rights to everyone, remains in the future for some of us in the United States, and there are miles to go before we expect to see it fully realized in our lives. And, of course, even the right to vote, which many of us had imagined could not be rolled back all over again after the victories of the Civil Rights movement, is now once again tenuous for many Americans due to a recent Supreme Court decision.

The graphic: a scene from Tony Kushner's play "Angels in America," in the Soulpepper production running right now in Toronto. Kushner centers his play on the idea that, in the contemporary struggle for gay rights, history is cracking wide open, as the angel of history descends once again to announce the arrival of rights for a minority group long excluded from rights.

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