It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King delivered his famous ‘dream’ speech, and 84 years since the Reverend Dr. was born. August 28th is really an anniversary of history itself. Much like the holiday we enjoy every January when we party on the civil rights’ leader’s birthday, the day he delivered the ‘dream’ to the American public will be celebrated with all due pomp and circumstance on the 28th.
In fact, throughout this month our nation’s capitol will play host to a variety of civil rights groups honoring the occasion.
During the hot and sticky August of 1963, scores of Americans were drawn to protest in the nation’s capitol. The beautifully interracial crowds marched on Washington D.C. demanding equal justice for all citizens under the law.
They congregated in front of the Lincoln Memorial which is located on the opposite end of the mall from the Capitol Building where President Barack Obama would be sworn into office a smidgen more than 45 years later. Martin Luther King predicted a time when freedom, harmony, and equality for all would become a reality in the U.S., and predicted his own death, leaving behind his “I Have a Dream” speech to speak to generations to come.
In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice to protest and action to discuss.
He wrote five books and dozens of articles. He led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world. He formed the coalition of conscience, penned the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and planned drives in Alabama to register African American voters. He conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson, still managing to get arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times. King was awarded five honorary degrees including The Nobel Peace Prize; was named Man of the Year by Timemagazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but a world figure, as well.
Five years after giving the “I Have A Dream” speech, Revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Dead at the age of 39.
This Reverend, this leader of the hopeful, spoke directly to our souls. He articulated his vision so clearly, and with such moving prose, that it was through his eyes so many could see for the first time. The fact that The Struggle still continues today, that thriving racists still exist, is baffling to those of us who believe in equality.
In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act outlawing all forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and outlawing discrimination against women in the US. The fight isn’t over. There always seems to be new and ingenious ways to strip Americans of their civil rights, and the ever vigilant have their work cut out for them decade after decade, Scotus decision after Scotus decision. Citizens United, Voting Rights Act. Work others died for being tossed around like Godzilla’s playthings.
MLK’s dream, once shared with the hundreds of thousands who listened to him live on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, was recorded and replayed to generations. Today, the gift of his vision lives in the hearts of the American public.
There was talk of the MLK monument being “out of service” on the anniversary, as decisions had been made to change the inscription, but luckily those changes were completed, phew, just in time. No, they didn’t give the statue a facelift, and they didn’t decide to uncross those famously crossed arms of the civil rights leader. No, the text that was removed from Reverend Dr. King’s monument was — “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”
That snippet was taken from Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech, given two months before the “Dream” speech, in Atlanta. Critics said the engraved quote made MLK sound arrogant, so the chisels came out.
In the full quote, Dr. King was alluding to his possible eulogy: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
His words literally still vibrate today at a level apparently higher than any elephant can hear. Where those words were carved out of stone on the monument, there is now only sandblasted rock with no inscription at all.
A week of events have been planned throughout the nation’s capitol, which should be perfectly temperate this time around. If you decide to join this year’s march from the Lincoln Memorial to the King Memorial on Aug. 24th, you’ll find the weather around 80 degrees that day with only 10% humidity. It’s an easy and delightful stroll from Lincoln to the MLK monument where there will also be an interfaith service on Aug. 28th.
We recommend joining one of the many bus rides planning to descend on our nation’s Capitol this week. If you need to know how to get around the city on Saturday, the Washington Post offers some advice and details.
Rising from the floor of The Mall in the heart of Washington D.C., placed halfway between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, MLK’s monument tells the story of a nation torn by public bouts of racism, sexism, and blind hate. Lessons as important today as they were then. So maybe come and visit. And be part of what stands between justice and injustice.
Come stand where he stood.
Come march for what he marched for.