The summer of 2013 on the U.S. racial map should remind us of the endurance and current significance of some of the high-quality metaphors from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech as well as references in Bob Dylan's powerful 1965 lyric, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
As this month marks the Golden Anniversary of the March on Washington, a look at Dr. King and Bob Dylan informs us of how skillful both were at capturing the spirit of the age and the spirit of the time -- that time a half century ago as well as today.
It shouldn't take the prodding of a social analyst to see that many of the underlying social divisions based on racial injustice that Dr. King spoke about so eloquently in 1963 are still with us. Nor should we need cable news commentators or faceless blog posters to tell us what the matchless American musician, singer, and songwriter Dylan meant by his evocative stanzas in the 1965 hit Subterranean Homesick Blues.
The summer of 2013 has been marked by a number of signature events where race matters. It has not only been a long hot summer meteorologically but some signature dealings, happenings, procedures, and trials are worth noting because they inform us of the present summer's similarity to the one a half century ago. Dr. King referred to the times as "This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent" while Dylan captured the period in "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'."
The summer of 2013 heated up quickly when the Supreme Court in June struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which stipulated that states with a history of racial discrimination were required to get federal approval before changing their election procedures. Who would have thought how accurately Dr. King would forecast these winds of change, of regress: "We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote." Not insignificantly, Dylan noted long ago that his "Blowin' in the Wind," an anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement, was"A takeoff an old Negro spiritual, a song called "No More Auction Block."
Not long after the heat stroke wrought on by this violent assault on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 2013 midsummer racial temperature in America was ramped up when George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in July. Dr. King might have said that the Zimmerman trial was "Not an end, but a beginning." Oddly, Bob Dylan's birth name is Robert Allen Zimmerman.
How clairvoyant was Dr. King when he foretold of what can be called this summer's injustice cooling point, of a sort: Attorney General Eric Holder recently directed federal prosecutors to avoid charging low-level, nonviolent drug defendants with crimes that trigger severe mandatory minimum sentences. Over the past thirty years, black and brown Americans, mainly young men, were incarcerated extensively for drug-related offenses. "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."
Could it be that federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin declared unconstitutional NYC's "stop and frisk" policing tactic after reviewing Dylan's pretentiously innocent lyrics when he asked, "How many years can some people exist/Before they're allowed to be free?/Yes, how many times can a man turn his head?/Pretending he just doesn't see?" Most Americans could see -- even if many would not acknowledge -- that it was black and brown New Yorkers, overwhelmingly, who suffered from this so called law-and-order policy. Who said, in 1963, that blacks were "Battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality?"
No weather related allegory or metaphor defines the summer of 2013 like "Lightning in a bottle." It describes what many of us who were coming of age when King and Dylan were speaking and singing thought was utterly impossible: that The Dream of King would not be realized by now and that the answers to America's race riddle would still be blowing in the wind.
That said, Dylan -- a Baby Boomer of a mere 71 years -- is still going strong, as is The Dream!