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THE CONTENT OF THEIR CHARACTER

 
 
Setanta
 
Reply Fri 22 Aug, 2003 07:53 am
Next Thursday, August 28, will be the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington. The labor organizer and civil rights leader A. Phillip Randolph had proposed such a march to FDR, who opposed the idea, based upon the potential he saw for violence. Randolph was able to extract from FDR an executive order for the hiring of negroes in defense industries.

In the summer of 1963, Martin Luther King's efforts to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama were stalled, with police dog attacks and fire hoses being used to beat back his marchers. Many of the young members decided that they could simply move out on Highway 11, and walk to Washington. Leadership caught up with them, however, and the March on Washington was put into effect, 20 years after Randolph had proposed it--and Randolph was still around to see it.

It energized the flagging civil rights movement, and it afforded to King the opportunity to deliver the speech which is associated with him, and likely always will be, as his greatest statement on equity and social justice:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note 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 insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. 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 or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. we must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. 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. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

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." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four 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. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, 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. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." 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 snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let 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!"
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 22 Aug, 2003 08:03 am
I saw that speech and that march on television when I was a very weelowan indeed - I stood there, in that spot many years later, and I could still hear that speech...
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Fri 22 Aug, 2003 09:12 am
When was it that you visited the Slough of Despond . . . er, i mean, Washington, Our Dear Wabbit?
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 22 Aug, 2003 05:39 pm
1997. Was there on Memorial Day, as it happened....
0 Replies
 
PDiddie
 
  1  
Reply Fri 22 Aug, 2003 06:07 pm
Sometimes words do change minds, and hearts, and people.

And societies.

And planets.

Thanks for that, boss.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 28 Aug, 2003 07:49 am
NPR has played a very interesting tape of Mr. Randolph introducing labor leader Walter Reuther, NAACP leader Roy Wilkins, and M. L. King. Here's a link for their coverage of this anniversary:

The March on Washington[/color]
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 28 Aug, 2003 04:29 pm
Am I the only poster on this site who was actually there that day? Funny thing, at the time I was more impressed with Josephine Baker's little warm-up speech than with King's momentous declaration of human rights. Ah, youth is callow indeed.
0 Replies
 
PDiddie
 
  1  
Reply Thu 28 Aug, 2003 07:24 pm
Quote:
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have an unpleasant confession to make. I am a Southerner. Born in the south of southern parents, with Confederate veterans and slaveowners on both sides of the family tree. For all I know, there may even be a few Klansman hanging in the lower branches as well -- by their necks, I hope.

I'm also, in some deep subterranean sense, a racist -- for one cannot grow up in the world of my childhood and not be marked by its imprint. Believe me, I know: I've spent my entire life trying to get away from it.

Intellectually, I believe in racial justice as feverently as I believe in anything. I would rather have my tongue cut out than utter a racist thought, much less a slur or insult. I support just about every item on the traditional civil rights agenda -- affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, you name it -- even though I'm not entirely comfortable with race-based solutions. As a privileged white American, I don't think I have the right to tell black Americans the playing field is level enough, especially when I know that it isn't.

I'm even open to conservative solutions, such as tuition vouchers, that are popular with black parents -- though I disagree with them philosophically. Again, I don't think I have the right to tell someone who lives in the ghetto what's right for their children.

But that's just politics. On a personal level, I know there is still a deep divide between me and anyone who happens to have a dark skin.

Of course, when you think of it that way, you realize just how insane it is -- that a tiny piece of code in a billion-molecule strand of DNA could make such an enormous difference in how we think and feel about our fellow human beings. Which is why racist societies (like the one I grew up in) make such a point of indoctrinating their children. They have to be carefully taught, as the old Rodgers and Hammerstein song put it.

And so we were -- by experience, if nothing else. It seems bizarre, here in the 21st century, to recall a time when people with different skins were required to drink from different water fountains, but one of my most powerful childhood memories is of my mother jerking me away from a fountain in mid-drink, because I'd happened to pick the wrong one in a department store.

I was too young to read the "Colored" sign, you see.

And Mom was the liberal in the family. She was the one who cringed every time Dad started flinging the "n" word around. But even she couldn't handle her 4-year old son putting his lilly white lips next to a spout where black lips had recently been. Not in public. Not with other white lips around to spread the story.

We heard the "n" word a lot in that summer of 1963. Dad and Granddad would sit with their bourbon and branch water -- in the downstairs rec room, by the fireplace with the crossed sabers and the Confederate flag hanging above it, and curse the civil right "agitators" who were invading Washington. And I would listen, through one ear, as I watched Bonanza or The Wonderful World of Disney. I didn't understand much of what they were saying, but I caught enough of it to realize that something scary was happening, something involving the "n"s, who were also scary. And in a vague, kids' kind of way, I was scared, too.

Lots of things happened after that; the riots and the war and the assassinations. The '60s blew up my family just as thoroughly as it blew up segregation. My parents divorced; I moved away from the South -- first to California, then back East, then to Washington State. And I ended up a very different person than the one my Dixie Daddy had hoped to raise.

But maybe not that different, after all. True, I've lived in racially diverse neighborhoods most of my adult life. I've had black neighbors, black co-workers, black nurses -- even, for a time, a black doctor. But I can't honestly say I've ever had any black friends. And I can't honestly say I've ever really tried. At some basic psychological level, black people are still the Other for me, and probably always will be.

There is, however, one thing I've always sworn to myself: The world of my childhood dies with me. My children are going to grow up free -- or as free as I can possibly make them -- of the taint of racism. That's going to be my own personal victory over the bastards who gave America slavery and segregation, including the ones in my own family.

And last night, I got a glimpse of that victory.

I took my 8-year-old daughter to my son's new middle school for Orientation Night, and after the obligatory pep talk and teacher introductions we all went downstairs to the cafeteria for sandwiches and cookies. Standing in line, my daughter ran into a friend from her school, who was there with her older brother.

Naturally, they began to chat, and giggle and make funny faces -- the usual little girl stuff. Pretty soon, they were doing the bump. Then the handslapping game. Like I've seen my daughter do with a dozen other little girls a thousand times before. But this particular friend was particularly cute, particularly sweet -- and particularly black.

After we got our sandwiches, I sat down at one of the rickety cafeteria tables with my son, and my daughter went and sat down next to her friend. And we all started eating. And that's when it hit me. I was literally watching a dream come true:

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 ....

OK, so it was the surburbs of Pennsylvania instead of red hills of Georgia. And the great-great-great-granddaughters of former slaves and former slave owners instead of their sons. But Martin Luther King's dream was big enough to include them all. And last night, I got to see my own little piece of it come true.

It's not much, I know; not when this country remains so distant from the rest of MLK's dream. But it was at least a reminder that the civil rights movement was an enormous triumph for American progressives, and for me personally. And not all of the fruits of that victory have been stolen by the tides of reaction since then.

Is there enough of Dr. King's dream left in this corrupted, polluted and reactionary America of ours to make it worth fighting for? I don't know. But about the dream itself I have no doubts. It will always be worth fighting for -- for my children's sake, and for my own.


Dream Time
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 28 Aug, 2003 07:52 pm
PDiddie, I salute you. A moving personal story, indeed.
0 Replies
 
PDiddie
 
  1  
Reply Thu 28 Aug, 2003 07:59 pm
Well, it's not my story, Merry, but it doesn't miss by much.

I found too much in common with the author's upbringing to keep from squirming, and thought it particularly appropriate to share on the anniversary.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 28 Aug, 2003 08:01 pm
PDiddie
Thanks for the link.
0 Replies
 
 

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