What a difference 50 years makes. Since 1963’s March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, the United States has passed several major Civil Rights Acts (1964, 1968, 1987 and 1991) which helped end widespread institutions of inequality and change the mindset of the American people.
A half century ago, Dr. King shared with us a dream he had about an America that rose up to “live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
Dr. King had a dream, but he wasn’t a dreamer—he was a visionary, a trailblazer and a pioneer. He was the solider on the front line—fighting for every American (as he said himself, our destinies—both black and white—are tied together) in his generation and in future generations. Dr. King saw a way that Americans, and humanity as a whole, could operate without the institutions of racism and prejudice ruling every facet of society from water fountains and bathrooms to schools, workplaces and homes. Dr. King had a dream, but think what would the world look like if he hadn’t been brave enough to share it?
Coming from a multicultural advertising agency, I see the numbers, facts and figures on the diversity of America daily. The truth is we’re becoming more diverse every day—the great melting pot has never been spicier or saucier. Even if I didn’t work at a multicultural agency, I’ve got enough life experience to know how diverse our population is; I’ll be bold enough, however, to say that I don’t believe I would be sitting here looking at the same facts and figures without Dr. King, without the March on Washington and without the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Contextualizing the time is imperative for understanding the strength of Dr. King’s short speech. Going back into 1963 is going back to some of America’s darkest days. We love to romanticize the ‘60s in some ways (doing so probably makes us feel better about a part of our history that we’re not altogether proud of), but the honest reality is the ‘60s was a time of radical injustices and the challenge to end them.
Not long after World War II with our economy booming, our country was one small step away from catastrophe. Sure, the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War consumed interests in the early 1960s, but the war on injustice and inequality was the real conflict consuming America’s attention.
The 1960s occurred one hundred years after the emancipation proclamation and the abolition of slavery, and still the roots of inequality were deeply embedded into the American society: the Governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace, promised, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” Dr. King and others were arrested in Birmingham for parading a nonviolent protest without a permit and skin color dictated everything– even white prisoners were treated better than black prisoners.
But, as the old cliché goes, the night is darkest just before the dawn. And the social unrest of the ‘60s allowed for Dr. King to realize the time for change in America: “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now… now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
While Dr. King had an army of Americans fighting the war on segregation and inequality alongside him, he was the face of the movement, the symbol of hope and the beacon of freedom. His words sparked a revolution. Thus, his silence would have withheld one with violence in the place of nonviolence, with stronger injustices in the place of justice and with a deeply stratified society in the place of an America based on equality.
On a day like today, reflecting on our nation’s history is important. If we need affirmation that our country has progressed, we only need to look back at our country a half century. Segregation and inherently racist, prejudice and unequal governing systems no longer dictate the law and order of the country or the lives of the people in it.
Yes—we’ve indeed come a long way in 50 years, but we still have a ways to go. We’re still at that dawn of the new day. Until equality in terms of race, gender, religion, etc. are all practiced, until we can shed our prejudices and look at one another as people instead of a color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and until people of any creed, color or class can seize opportunities to achieve the American dream, we, as Americans, cannot be satisfied and cannot sing out “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”
Cover Photo Source: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://wpmaster.sjadv.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2013/02/Cassandra-Bremer-Our-Space-Photo-e1402061863316.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Cassandra is a Content Manager and Developer at SJG. She earned her BA from Fontbonne University in 2011. Outside the office, she enjoys an active, healthy and well-rounded lifestyle including reading, writing, running, golfing, watching films, listening to music, taking photographs, and consuming media and social media.[/author_info] [/author]