“The “I Have A Dream” speech by the civil rights leader Martin Luther King jnr, then just 34 years old, will be commemorated today when President Barack Obama, America’s first black president, will stand where King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington Mall and recall his words.”
– Simon Carswell, Irish Times
“”I Have a Dream” was a public speech delivered by American clergyman and activist Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963, in which he called for an end to racism in the United States. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the speech was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.“
“Recent controversies show King’s dream remains unrealised.
The mass protests over the acquittal of the killer of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin and the Supreme Court’s striking down of a landmark 1965 voting Act designed to protect minority voters are cases in point. Unemployment among minority races remains higher than in other sections of society, while black Americans face disproportionate police actions and court sentences.
More to do
The Pew Research Centre found that 49 per cent of Americans say “a lot more” needs to be done to achieve the dream. For Republicans, 35 per cent say “a lot” still needs to be done; the figure rises to 63 per cent for Democrats.
“Obviously the dream has not been realised. We have made a lot of progress but we are a long way from it,” said Dr E Faye Williams, national chairwoman of the National Congress of Black Women.
There are no African-American women in the Senate, she says, and she is keen that Obama will one day appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court. She hopes the 50th anniversary commemoration will “inspire us to do more and to do better” and that the president will speak today about what he could do by way of executive order to restore protective measures for minorities in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Republican governor of the southern state of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, the first Indian-American to serve as a governor in the US and potential future presidential candidate, wrote in an article on the Politico website this week that America still remained divided, despite the progress achieved since King’s famous speech on August 28th, 1963, and he called for an end to race divisions in America. “We still place far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness’, our heritage, ethnic background, skin colour etc,” he said.
“We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans and Native Americans, to name just a few. Here’s an idea: how about just ‘Americans’?”
Race dominates American politics, though it is rarely addressed in public. Even a black president has spoken only occasionally about his experiences of being African-American, most notably after the recent acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.
Congressional districts feeding the House of Representatives have been reshaped into homogenous political constituencies mirroring their racial make-up; the average Republican district has 50 per cent more white people, while the average Democratic district has twice as many non-white constituents. This has jammed up Congress.
“The unaddressed question in American politics is: to what degree is partisan gridlock driven, underneath, by racial and ethnic division?” said the Pulitzer-prize winning author Taylor Branch, best known for his landmark history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years.
“I’d give anything to sit for a while and ask President Obama what he thinks, on issue after issue where there is partisan gridlock, how much of that is racially driven.”
The focus today will be on Obama and what he might say on a platform that 50 years ago Martin Luther King used to galvanise a movement.” – Simon Carswell, Irish Times
“King’s dream may not have become reality, even with the election of a black president – perhaps it never will be complete. But it is certainly true that some elements of the African-American nightmare are over.
Once, by law, black people were separate and unequal, segregated throughout public life.
Today the river that runs through the US capital city can still feel like a sharp dividing line. On one side, the White House, Capitol Hill and an increasingly prosperous city where areas that were once ghettos are now gentrified, full of smart restaurants and bars.
But over the river in south-east Washington, where more than 90% of the population is African American, it’s a very different story.
To many whites, it is a no-go area. I have lost count of the times I have been warned to stay away. Despite some determined efforts, improvements and a fierce resilience, it remains rundown and poor.
The unemployment rate for whites in Washington DC is 3.5%. The official statistic of black unemployment here is 22%, although some say it is really much higher.
In the US as a whole the figures are stark: average unemployment: 7.4%, black unemployment: 12.6%; median income: $50,502 (£32,495), median black income: $33,460; national poverty rate: 15%; black poverty rate: 27.4%.
And of 1.5 million Americans in jail, 38% are African American though black people only constitute about 13% of the US population.
Some, of course, would say this is about economics, not race, and while the disparity has a lot to do with history and culture it is not the result of discrimination.
They would get short shrift in this side of town.
At Bread for the City, I watch grateful customers collect free cans of food – they are offered beans or corn, ham and fruit juice.
I’m told this service is vital – food stamps run out at the end of every month and this service helps fill the gap. People here are often not destitute, just the working poor and retired on an inadequate pension.
Evelyn Brown is 80 and attended the famous march 50 years ago. She used to be a nurse and has worked all her life but finds it hard to make ends meet.
“It seems like everything is going backwards, ’cause like I said I came up the ranks, the hard times, so therefore I can see what’s going on now,” she says.
“Really it is a struggle, it’s a terrible struggle.”
Above one of the workers’ desks here is a poster about Trayvon Martin .
The acquittal of his killer, found not guilty of murder, shocked and disappointed many in this part of town.
The introduction of laws in some states to require people to show ID before voting is seen as another attempt to disenfranchise blacks.
The fact that the Supreme Court ruled these laws were not in breach of civil rights legislation, basically on the ground that times have changed, is seen as a grave disappointment.
And while many whites might see Mr Obama’s election as the final, triumphant chapter in the civil rights story, here it is sourly noted that he hasn’t visited this part of the city just a few miles from where he lives.
Judith Hawkins says not enough has changed since King marched.
“We can sit in the front of the bus and we don’t have to go to the outside water fountains,” she says.
“And people would say we’ve come a long way because Barack Obama is president. It’s almost like he’s the panacea, but I mean with the recession it’s really real here.”
“It’s like, ‘OK, you get a president, you get nothing else. You got him so you don’t need to eat, you don’t need education.’ It’s just almost worse, it almost made it worse because of the backlash.”
Many of those at the events to mark the march’s 50th anniversary will not just be on the streets to mark past history, but to proclaim that King’s struggle is far from over, his dream not a reality for many.” – Mark Mardell (BBC’s North America editor)
“Thousands of people have attended a rally in Washington DC to mark 50 years since Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech on civil rights.
Jobs, voting rights and gun violence topped the concerns of many of those who marched to the Lincoln Memorial.
Eric Holder, the first black US attorney general, said he and President Barack Obama would not be in office had it not been for the original marchers.
Among those who addressed Saturday’s rally was the mother of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager shot dead in Florida last year, whose killer was recently acquitted.
“He’s not just my son, he’s all of our son and we have to fight for our children,” Sabrina Fulton said.
Earlier she told the BBC many young African Americans had been left afraid by the acquittal of neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
She called for a change to laws in many American states which allow the use of deadly force if a person feels seriously threatened.
Saturday’s event comes a few days before the actual anniversary of the original march on 28 August 1963.
King, who was assassinated in 1968, led about 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall and delivered his famous speech from its steps.
“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.” he said, in one of the most celebrated pieces of American oratory.
Martin Luther King III, King’s eldest son, told the marchers from the same steps on Saturday: “This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration.
“The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.”
In his speech, Mr Holder said of the 1963 demonstrators: “They marched in spite of animosity, oppression and brutality because they believed in the greatness of what this nation could become and despaired of the founding promises not kept.”
The spirit of 1963, he said, now demanded equality for gay people, Latinos, women, the disabled and others.
Organisers had hoped to gather some 100,000 people in Washington. The crowd was predominantly African American but included white Americans and others.
Mr Obama, the first black US president, is due to commemorate the event on Wednesday with a speech from the same spot where King spoke.
He will be joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, while churches and groups have been asked to ring bells at 15:00 (19:00 GMT) to mark the exact time King delivered his speech.” – BBC News (24 August 2013)
Martin Luther King – I Have A Dream Speech – August 28, 1963
(Video credit: sullentoys)