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Friday was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, which we celebrate on Monday as a federal holiday.
It comes on the heels of the storming of the U.S. Capitol that took lives, caused physical damage to a building revered as a symbol of our Democracy, and raised questions of whether our form of government can survive.
It was a riot, perhaps the culmination of a national effort by the Trump administration to solidify power through distortions of the truth and division of the people.
Never has the life and words of Martin Luther King, Jr. been so important. Whether it’s his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech or his famed “I have a Dream Speech,” the message was and is clear – peace, equality, opportunity, dignity, and hope.
How far have we come as a nation since Dr. King’s memorable “I have a Dream” speech in the late summer of 1963?
I’ve taken some excerpts of King’s speech, and noted events along the way that remind us that we still have many challenges in bringing about the peaceful harmony of people that Dr. King so fervently sought.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”
- Martin Luther King Jr. gave his memorable “I have a Dream Speech” to 250,000 people who peacefully gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.
- Just a few months earlier, on January 14, 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace, in his inaugural address, gave his “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speech.
- June 12, 1963 – Mississippi NAACP state chairman Medgar Evers is killed in Jackson, Mississippi.
- May 11, 1963, the Birmingham riot of 1963, precipitated by bombings targeting black leaders of the Birmingham campaign, a protest for racial justice. Bombed were the parsonage of the Rev. A.D. King, Martin Luther King’s brother, and others. Witnesses saw Birmingham police place bombs at the parsonage.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
- In 1964 Congress passes the Civil Rights Act
- Race riots erupt and continue from 1964 to 1968, from upstate New York to the deep South.
- On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee, unleashing a wave of social unrest that some say was the most widespread since the Civil War.
- President Trump argued that “many sides” and “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottsville, claiming there were “some very fine people on both sides” — “a comment he never apologized for, even after it was widely interpreted, including by white supremacists, as a dog whistle to white supremacists,” according to numerous reports, including Vox.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
- On October 13, 2016, an African American sophomore football player at Stone County High School in Mississippi allegedly had a noose placed around his neck and yanked backward by a teammate. Unhurt, the student was described as terrified.
- Feb. 25, 2014 the University of Mississippi’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity is suspended for hanging a noose and a Georgia flag with a Confederate emblem on the statue of James Meredith, the university’s first African American student.
- Kenosha unrest – The shooting of Jacob Blake sparked protests. Two protesters were shot and killed in an incident during the protests. Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with killing the two protesters.
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.
- Researchers for the Washington Post conclude that in 2015 unarmed black men were seven times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed white men.
- Michael Brown, a black man, is shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. On Aug. 9, 2014, resulting protests and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Over the last few years, black men … women die at the hands of police from Minnesota to Florida, many unarmed. In 2020, among them – Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Sean Monterrosa, Rayshard Brooks, Andrés Guardad, Daniel Prude, Deon Kay, Jonathan Price, Marcellis Stinnette, Casey Goodson, Bennie Edwards, Andre Hill, and Jacob Blake
- Violence spilled over into law enforcement in 2016, with at least 64 police officers shot and killed, exceeding the 10-year average of 53 a year.
- A Pew survey found 56 percent of Americans agree that President Trump made race relations worse, compared to 64 percent that believe former President Barack Obama made progress toward improving race relations or tried but failed to make progress.
- White nationalists and neo-Nazis, including KKK grand wizard David Duke, rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia. Counter-protesters showed up to demonstrate against racism, and the racist protesters responded with violence. One man rammed his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing one and injuring dozens.
- President Trump argued that “many sides” and “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, claiming there were “some very fine people on both sides” — “a comment he never apologized for, even after it was widely interpreted, including by white supremacists, as a dog whistle to white supremacists,” according to Vox.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exhalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
- During the 2016 presidential election, now outgoing President Donald Trump implied that a federal judge, Gonzalo Curiel, who presiding over a class action suit against Trump University, could not fairly hear the case because of his Mexican heritage. Curiel was born in the United States.
- Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions had been dogged by allegations of racism throughout his career, from Attorney General of Alabama to the U.S. Senate.
- Trump chose Steve Bannon, who served as Trump’s campaign chair, as chief White House strategist. Bannon, head Breithart News, has been a fervent racist, heading an organization that celebrates the alt right, known for its anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
- Retired U.S. Army General Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice as National Security Advisor, tweeted anti-Semitic remarks during the campaign, and his appointment was hailed by the KKK.
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So, let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”