Martin Luther King S Dream
The struggle for freedom including equality for African Americans is passed down from generation to generation and from one era of black leadership to the next.
In the history of any great people, sometimes there is a singular moment that so sums up that struggle and challenges the hearts of the people of the time that this moment becomes one that is both historic and mythical. In the long history the African American in this country, one such singular moment was the delivery of what has come to be referred to as the “I have a dream” speech during the historic March on Washington in August of 1963.
There are many things about this speech that are so poetic that the text of the speech has become one of the great historic texts of the nation’s history as well as of black history. That is why virtually any school child can recite the most stirring words from the speech which are…
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, 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 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 my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
What is most striking about this text if you read the entire text is the hope.
And it’s a wonderful tradition for every family to read this speech, perhaps on Martin Luther’s King’s birthday which is now a national holiday. Dr King called upon his people to look up and look with hope toward tomorrow. But more than that, he called on all people to work together toward a shared hope, a hope of fulfilling the American dream that he discusses with such passion in his words.
The setting for the speech was on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, within view of the Congress, the reflecting pool and the White House on the National Mall in the center of Washington D.C. Dr King called it hallowed ground reflecting his deep reference and respect for the icons of this country and his deep love of country which too comes through in the speech.
Rethinking the Rainbow Coalition.
But it is a speech of struggle because he spoke of the fact that black people in America were still not living in an openly free and equal status with all other citizens. Dr King did not lose touch with the reality of the tough lives African Americans were living in the United States. That is why this speech is so perfectly crafted and so perfectly delivered. It combines the harsh reality and resolves by black leaders and the African American population to make the world better for themselves and their children with a hope and an optimism that this was a country that would not put up with the oppression and discrimination that has kept black people down ever since slavery.
It is a speech that issued a call to action in the time frame of “Now” which was a call to action that many in the houses of power in our country took heed of. They did take action immediately to get the process of renewal and repair of a broken social system moving in the right direction. One of the outcomes of this speech was the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 which changed the fabric of the country forever in the legal restrictions it put on discrimination in every aspect of American life.
If it had not been for the “I have a dream” speech, the March on Washington on that hot and humid August day might have just been another in the many protests and events of the civil rights era.
Instead, it became an iconic moment in American and black history that changed Dr King into a national hero for black and white people alike and energized a movement and a nation to take matters into their own hands and make thing better for all people.
Throughout history, the African American leadership has had many outstanding men and women who made their mark and made a difference for black people in America. And that tradition continues to this day with modern black leadership such as Barrack Obama, The Reverend Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson.
Jessie Jackson has organized his efforts to continue the struggle for civil rights in one of the most innovative organizations in history that came to be known as the Rainbow Coalition. This organization represented the dreams and goals of Reverend Jackson, to be sure.
But it also represents the shared efforts of black Americans across the country in modern times to keep the dream of Martin Luther King alive and moving forward.
The Rainbow Coalition was the outcome of a series of efforts and movements that began with a relationship between Reverend Jackson and Dr King. It was Martin Luther King that asked Jessie Jackson to head up a movement called Operation Breadbasket, a project to seek the economic improvement of black communities across the country, particularly in the inner city. Operation Breadbasket eventually evolved into a powerful civil rights organization known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
As these movements started to make a real difference in the lives of African Americans in America, another step was the development of Operation PUSH which stood for People United to Save Humanity. This influential organization has become the cornerstone for promoting civil rights and social justice for African Americans in the last twenty years.
It was from these different initiatives and the success they were realizing that the Rainbow Coalition was birthed to seek economic opportunity in the business community and to encourage Fortune 500 companies to hire minorities and to expand their involvement in the nurture and the development of the black community for the good of all peoples.
The naming of the movement “The Rainbow Coalition” is pivotal to the vision Reverend Jackson had for the civil rights movement. He did not see it as just black people working for the betterment of the black community. Instead, inspired by Martin Luther King’s dream of equality and brotherhood of all races, the coalition would truly be a partnership of all minorities, the white community and other equal rights movements to seek equal opportunity for all of America’s citizens.
The important stance that The Rainbow Coalition brought to the consciousness of the black community and America was the concept that civil rights were not just a black issue. It emphasized that all of America cannot move forward when a part of the population is left behind to flounder in poverty and without the benefits of a good education and job opportunities.
The result is that the black pride that was built by key figures of black history such as Mohammed Ali, Spike Lee and even more radical elements such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers could now be used to promote true equality in society. In doing so, Jackson and other contemporary black leaders taught that the African American community not only could be but must insist on being fully black and fully American in their status in American culture.
Finally, the Rainbow Coalition emphasized that civil rights is not just a political issue.
The emphasis was on all aspects of American life including economic equality, social opportunity and even equal representation in the media and entertainment arts. To be truly represented as an important part of American culture, black Americans must have equal opportunities in all venues.
This is the message for its time that Reverend Jackson and the Rainbow coalition has brought and continues to bring to the national stage. And it’s an important message that takes the good that was done in past civil rights movements in this country and brings up to date with a new century.
The Underground Railroad.
Sometimes when people are under their most oppression, that is when they truly are at their best it seems. And that adage could certainly be applied to those who operated the Underground Railroad in the 19th century while slavery was still the law of the land in America.
The Underground Railroad was a means by which tens of thousands of slaves were able to escape their oppressors and make their way north to free states and a chance for freedom. It was so secretive that even to speak of it meant discovery and terrible punishment. But worse than that if it had been discovered by those who would stop slaves from finding their way out, it would have meant the end of hope for thousands of African Americans who were enduring the injustice of slavery.
The term “The Underground Railroad” was itself a code because that actual mechanism for moving slaves to freedom was not a railroad at all. It was a series of stops, connected by obscure routes that wound their way through the countryside. The routes were twisted and illogical so those seeking to catch slaves and return them to bondage would be hard-pressed to figure out the ways those seeking freedom might travel.
There was no published route for the Underground Railroad. “Passengers” made their way from safe house to safe house taking refuge in homes, churches and other out of the way locations that became known as “stations” to those in the know. Very often, the people who ran the stations along the path had no idea how long the railroad was or anything about the whole route. They simply knew enough to receive their “passengers”, do all they could for their health and care and send them along with instructions on how to reach the next station.
The routes were treacherous and difficult. Slaves trying to reach freedom usually walked the routes from station to station to avoid public gathering places where slave chasers might find them and send them back to their owners in the south. And just as there was no real “railroad” to the Underground Railroad, the routes themselves were not actually under the ground. However many times at the safe houses, the owners will secure their guests in tunnels under the house or under a farm building.
At one such safe house in Nebraska City, Nebraska, there is a tunnel from the house to the barn so that if the farmer was feeding a needy family, they could quickly “disappear” if slave hunters arrived without notice. There were also roughly dug out bedrooms and crude accommodations under those houses to provide as much comfort and opportunities to rest and recover as was humanly possible under such difficult conditions.
We cannot leave our consideration of this phenomenal network without recognizing the courage of those who ran the “stations” to take in slaves, harbour them, feed them and care for their needs and help them along the way to try to do what they could to strike back at this inhuman practice of human slavery. It is a testimony to humanity that people would overcome their prejudices and reach out to strangers, putting their own homes and families at risk to help downtrodden people in their time of great need.
And we must take a solemn moment and look back on a dark time in American and Black history when such measures were necessary. But the Underground Railroad spoke loudly that real Americans would not sit idly by and watch their fellow man suffer unjustly. There is no doubt that tens of thousands of lives were saved by these anonymous heroes who didn’t do it for reward or recognition.
They did it because it was the right thing to do and the thing God would expect them to do. It is an inspiration to us all in this day to lay down our prejudices and bond together as brothers to resist prejudice, bigotry and mans cruelty to man because of these evils. If we do that we will know in our hearts, like those slaves on the railroad and the station owners knew, that there would come a better day.