Today, the 3rd Monday of January, is a Federal holiday to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Civil Rights Leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is much to celebrate, much to remember about this historic figure, although during his lifetime, he was hated and vilified by many, and surreptitiously tracked by Herbert Hoover and the FBI.
In the decades since Dr. King’s assassination, many have attempted to “whitewash” (pun definitely intended) the words spoken in his most famous speech, now known as the “I Have A Dream” speech.
However, most people forget that Dr. King gave this historic speech at the 1963 March on Washington (after first giving the first version of that speech at the June 1963 March in Detroit Michigan); that march, which drew over 250,000 from all over the country and the world, was named the “March for Jobs and Justice.” That march was hardly only about “dreaming for better days”. The purpose of that march, and the overarching theme of the speech was a call for jobs and justice for people of color–American citizens–NOW.
One month later, in September of 1963, a domestic terrorist and a member of the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama during Sunday School services, killing four little girls.
Certain lines from the latter part “I Have A Dream” speech are repeated over and over: especially “…I have a dream that my four little children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by content of their character…”
But certain other lines are forgotten or deliberately ignored. These statements from the speech are just as important or even more so, and they still ring true today.
“In a sense, we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. …This note [the promissory note written by the Founders] was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note…America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’…We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off…Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children…
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back…No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Black people in America, and in fact, all people of color in this country, are STILL waiting to cash that check that still says “insufficient funds.”
There are some other people who are screaming that they want to “take THEIR country back.” THEIR country? This country belongs to ALL of us, not just some. Back to WHEN? When only white, straight, Christian, property-owning men had guaranteed rights?
In the historic words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,: “No, no. We will NOT go back.” We are here to cash our check with the fierce urgency of NOW.
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