SAN JOSE, January 24, 2013 – On Monday, the day of an incredible intersection of President Obama’s inaugural celebrations and the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, all seemed quite natural. It seemed fitting that the inauguration for a black president take place on such an auspicious day. Obama’s inaugural team crafted crew well-orchestrated celebrations deliberately intended to take advantage of the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day occurring the same day.
Nevertheless, as President Barack Hussein Obama was reseated in the position as the Chief Executive, millions of Americans watched with uncertainty about the true direction the country seems to be headed. Others believe that Obama is proof of the fulfillment of the Civil Rights Movement. Is he?
When Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke the words of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, he shared that his dream was rooted in the American Dream:
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 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.
Dr. King realized the Civil Rights Movement as the furtherance of the American Dream, not an act of rebellion against the founder’s dream of a nation dedicated to freedom. It was no accident that the March on Washington in August of 1963 arrived at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King viewed Abraham Lincoln’s efforts as work that furthered the Dream of the Founding Fathers. Upon such a foundation that Lincoln and those of the Abolitionists created, Dr. King could speak out against the racial injustice of the Deep South.
Laying that foundation was an incredibly difficult task. President Lincoln found himself in turbulent and radically dangerous times during the Civil War. He also relied heavily on the Dream of the Founders to guide him during such perilous times. 2013 is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which technically took effect on January 1, 1863. Later that same year, after one of the bloodiest battles of the war, on Thursday, November 19th, Lincoln delivered a simple two-minute speech to help dedicate the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. After the speech, he personally judged it a failure. However, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address crystallized his view of the Civil War and how it related to the Dream of the Founding Fathers:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure…
Lincoln’s perception of the crisis that engulfed his presidency was clear. He knew that America prided itself on being a nation dedicated to freedom; but with the existence of slavery, the Dream had yet to be completely fulfilled. The Founders could only accomplish so much in their day, but still they managed to carve out of North America the foundation for the Land of the Free.
Lincoln furthered that foundation with his strength and his certainty that the Founding Fathers did not sacrifice their lives in vain, but through their efforts, they planted the seeds of freedom. He was also realistic and understood that the fulfillment of their Dream could not be completed in their time and had to be delayed and postponed.
The Civil War was fundamentally fought to determine whether the United States of America would have the opportunity to continue to pursue the development of the Founder’s Dream of freedom, or lose the hope that there could be a Land especially dedicated to the freedom of all people. Specifically, slavery represented the absolute destruction of that Dream. However, the Union victory and the abolition of slavery was by no means the end of this narrative. Many had hoped it would be; Lincoln envisioned a better America, one that could live up to the Dream of the Founders. In the conclusion of his Gettysburg Address, he reasoned:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us— that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
America was able to survive the disastrous Civil War and managed to end slavery, but The Land of the Free was yet unfulfilled and undeveloped. There had been a new birth of freedom – to the extent that the black population had finally been legally established as citizens of the United States. Yet, since the days of Lincoln, the hate and resentment of many of those in the South toward the Yankee was taken out upon these new citizens. Black codes were established within the legal system, and ultimately Jim Crow laws entrenched bigotry, prejudice, and racism within the city and state governments.
This was the world Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up in and the one he sought to transform. Dr. King was a God-centered black man who struggled to illuminate the world on how bigotry and prejudice, in their ugliest manifestations, could be harmful and could lead to governmental mandates that condoned hatred, cruelty, and injustice. Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement challenged the “disease of segregation” that had spread throughout the Southern culture 160 years before the United States was established. It was a hard habit to shake. But even moreso, such racism was protected by the law for the sake of maintaining strict control of the black population. Essentially, it was localized tyranny. But…
I still have a dream… deeply rooted in the American dream.
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 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 slopes 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 molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring…
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