It has been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. All of the preparation leading up to the march for jobs and freedom, and Dr. King’s speech, mark a pivotal period in time that changed the nation’s course.
Today, at 11:00 am ET, a ceremony begins honouring the day. Later on in the afternoon, joined by members of Dr. King’s family and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, President Obama will deliver a speech at the Lincoln Memorial. The similarities between what took place during 1963 and what is occurring at this time in the nation’s history will be evident; just as economic opportunity, equal justice and equal protection under the law was the vision was 50 years, so it is today.
Many organisations have been at the forefront of efforts to make the United States a ‘more perfect union’. Many of those groups with a deep-rooted civil rights history have actively worked to build the nation and make it fair for all. The #MLKDREAM50 site notes involvement by these groups and more in today’s activities, bridging the gap between 50 years ago and today:
The King Center and The Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Freedom (National Council of Negro Women, SCLC, National Urban League, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, National Action Network, National Council of Churches, Children’s Defense Fund).
So much involvement. So much time. So much more to do.
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder noted that, “…Our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities, and of countless others across this country who still yearn for equality, opportunity, and fair treatment. We recognize that we are forever bound to one another and that we stand united by the work that lies ahead – and by the journey that still stretches before us.”
The work that has impacted this nation in ways big and small must continue. With so many recent efforts to push back women’s rights and the rights of people of colour — in addition to stalling efforts towards inclusion of immigrants, members of the LGBT community and the middle and lower-economic classes into the ‘American Dream’, more effort than ever must be devoted to our collective civil, legal and human rights.
Certainly, much has changed over the past 50 years — but in some ways it feels as though the nation is at a standstill or even moving backwards. Racism and classism haven’t disappeared — and decisions such as the recent Supreme Court ruling which effectively stripped away the guts of the Voting Rights Act show that ordinary people must make their voices heard when those in power place self- and corporate interests above those of the nation.
A recent Gallup survey reveals that “U.S. blacks’ perceptions of racial equality in job hiring are more positive today than in 1963 but still negative overall. More blacks are positive about equal educational opportunities but these views are no better than 50 years ago.” Additionally, the income gap has grown wider and the gap of disadvantage has grown wider. Real income has declined over the past thirty years not just for racial minorities but for the entire working class. This makes it ever more apparent that many of the issues faced in this country are based on economics rather than the skin colour of the citizens.
The nation still has institutional problems in the areas of equal access to education and health care. While steps have been taken to equalise the system it’s clear that there is still much work to do. Legislation may change the system but it cannot change hearts and minds — strong leadership is needed from the family and community all the way up to the highest offices in the country to further the dream Dr. King had all those decades ago.
What can we do? Apathy is never the answer. Join the call to action.