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Clarence B. Jones

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MLK's 'I Have a Dream' Speech: 49 Years Ago Today

Posted: 08/28/2012 9:39 am

Forty-nine years ago today, August 28, 1963, a 34-year-old Baptist preacher from Georgia, stirred and summoned the conscience of our nation to share his "Dream." The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to an estimated 300,000 white and black Americans who had assembled at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Eighteen days later, on September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young black girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair were killed by the blast while attending Sunday school at the Church. They were friends of Condoleezza Rice, who was also a young girl living in Birmingham.

President Barack Obama was two years old.

Two years later, August 6, 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Today, the Republican Party is holding its National Convention in Tampa to formally nominate Governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin, as the party's candidates for president and vice president. Condoleezza Rice will be a prominent speaker at the convention.

At the March on Washington, prominent labor and religious leaders -- Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Greek Orthodox -- played a major role in convening and participating in the March. It has been compared "to a tsunami, shock wave, a wall, a living monument, a human mosaic, an outright miracle."

As I wrote in Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech That Transformed a Nation:

"It was all of those things. A quarter of a million people, human being who generally had spent their lives treated as something less, stood shoulder to shoulder across that vast lawn, their hearts beating as one. Hope on the line. When hope was an increasingly scarce resource."

During the 1960s, the strong and close historic coalition between the African American and Jewish communities comprised the backbone not only of the March but much of the success of the Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.

Hurricane Isaac hovers over the convention in Tampa. However there are even more ominous political storm clouds hovering not only above Tampa but also over Charlotte, NC, where the Democrats will hold their convention next week.

These clouds include, but are not limited to, the rising American casualties in the war in Afghanistan, the escalating civil war in Syria, Israel's potential military action against Iran to halt its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, continued high domestic unemployment, repeated incidents of nationwide gun violence and most ominous of all, the recent report out of the Congressional Budget Office.

The report said that if Congress takes no action to halt the tax increases and automatic budget cuts scheduled to go in effect on January 1, our economy could fall into a recession.

The New York Times' Robert Pear writes,

"The non-partisan analysis predicted that, under current law, total economic output would shrink and the unemployment rate would rise to about nine percent next year ... The budget office estimates that under current law federal spending will total $3.56 trillion in the current fiscal year, while the government will collect $2.44 trillion in revenue. The projected deficit is equivalent to 7.3% of the economy."

American casualties in Afghanistan during the past 24 months have risen to 2,000, 36 of whom are women soldiers. Several thousand civilian casualties also occurred during this same period, many of which were women and children.

Meanwhile, in Tampa and the Republicans in Congress, white males seems preoccupied with determining when and under what circumstances a woman has the right to choose to give birth. This, of course, is an experience that none of the male members of Congress have had or will ever have. Yet they continue to pontificate with such righteous certitude.

None of these issues dominated the national political landscape 49 years ago when Dr. King spoke with such eloquence about his belief in the ultimate goodness and decency of the American people on the issue of race, justice and equal opportunity in our nation.

It is ironic that so much anger and hostility has been and continues to be expressed by so many members of the Tea Party and Republican Party against President Obama. Some of this hostility, not all, seems without question, racial animosity.

It is ironic because President Obama, the son of a white mother and African father, raised by white grandparents, would appear to be the ultimate embodiment of racial reconciliation in America. Half white and half black, who as president could better symbolize America's efforts to heal itself after a bloody civil war that killed more than 600,000 over our nation's effort to end slavery?

As we approach next's year's 50th Anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech, whether you oppose or support President Obama, whether he is re-elected or not this November, we should finally and comfortably elevate his white heritage from his mother and grandmother to co-equal status with his African father.

Morally and politically, this would be a more accurate tribute and reflection of what took place 49 years ago today in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

 
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