By Dylan Deprey
No matter the skin color, the geographic location or the religion, there are four words every American has heard and believed in: “I have a dream.” The speech was and is a roadmap to complete civil rights.
As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, 100 years after the signing of the emancipation proclamation, slavery was not holding him down; segregation was.
He was never stripped from his family and culture, sold like cattle and forced to work on a plantation. He never had to worry about being whipped for not working fast enough or speaking incorrectly to his master.
He would have to worry about being lynched by disgruntled white folk, and later live on as a Christmas card displaying the picture of a lifeless hanging body.
He never had to live in a cramped shanty with no working plumbing outside of his master’s plantation.
He was subjected to blatant racism, where a pristine water fountain and bathroom with a “White Only” sign was not for him to use. Certain restaurants were “white only” and unless he wanted to go to jail, he stayed clear.
Though slavery had technically ended with Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. King lived in the shadowy remnants of what slavery had left behind.
Separate, But Equal
“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,” said Dr. King during his speech.
He grew up as a reverend’s son, in Atlanta, GA. Like many of his other African American friends he went to a segregated school.
After graduating high school at 15-years-old, he earned his B.A. at Morehouse College. He followed in his father’s footsteps and studied at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. While finishing his doctorate at Boston University, he met a young woman by the name of Coretta Scott, who he later married and had two sons and a daughter with.
By 1954, he had become the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was heavily involved in civil rights, became a member of the NAACP, one of the first organizations of its time.
A year later, Dr. King was leading the charge on the of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began with Rosa Parks refusing her seat to a white person on Dec. 5 1955.
The boycott lasted a year and fifteen days, all in which time Dr. King was arrested, his home bombed and the subject of personal attacks.
The Boycott ended after the Supreme Court decision in the case of Browder v. Gayle, that deemed the segregated buses unconstitutional.
The Civil Rights Era “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The SCLC was formed to provide new leadership for the ever-growing civil rights movement. Dr. King borrowed the ideals from Christianity and operational techniques from famous Indian Civil Rights Leader, Mahatma Gandhi.
King and the SCLC organized the 1963 Birmingham Campaign, where nonviolent protests in the heavily segregated Birmingham, AL, were met with fire hoses, nightsticks and German Sheppard’s. The shots of black students hanging for dear life as their blasted with fire hoses flashed across the world.
Between 1957-1968, King traveled over 6 million miles, spoke over 2,500 times, wrote five books, lead massive protests and gained worldwide recognition with his inspirational message and firsthand account with “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Following the Birmingham Campaign, King helped organize the March on Washington, where he was inducted as one of the greatest orators in American history when he gave his “I have a Dream Speech.”
On Oct. 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for the nonviolent resistance used to fight racial inequality in America. He was the youngest to win the Prize at that time, and he donated the prize money right back into the civil rights movement.
That same year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, and it legally outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
In 1965, King and the SCLC participated in the three Selma to Montgomery marches as part of the voting rights movement. The first march otherwise known as Bloody Sunday was a spitting image of the hatred seen in Birmingham years earlier.
After having President Lyndon B. Johnson step in to protect protestors for the third march, the Voting Rights Act was quick its heels.
The story has been told in classrooms and barbershops, in textbooks and documentaries. Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee.
MLK and Now “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.”
He may have passed on, but his legacy lasts forever. He believed in his people, just as much as he believed in the nonviolent protests that inked the Civil Rights Movement into the history books.
Although there is still work to make Dr. King’s dreams come true, the path he blazed will forever lead those who dream for the same future he did.