Fifty years ago today, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where the freedom march ended. There was a huge commemoration ceremony in front of the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon. Speakers ranged from former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to Dr. King’s aunt and children, to President Barack Obama.
We celebrate the freedom march on Washington today to mark the progress we’ve made on equal rights and justice under the law since 1963, and more importantly, to acknowledge the vast amount of work we still need to do to make Dr. King’s dream a reality for all.
Dr. King’s message is as relevant today as it was in 1963. I present it below in its entirety. It’s copyrighted heavily, and I don’t own or claim ownership of any part of it. However, I believe it is too important a national treasure to be kept from the people (18 min.).
President Obama’s speech today addressed the many challenges Americans still face. (28 min.):
In 1963, racial segregation was the law of the land. All persons of color and women were second class citizens. LGBT people were in hiding. The disabled were institutionalized or hidden. The law began changing in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, and another Civil Rights Act was passed in 1968, all signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
Civil rights are still an issue today. It seems every group who is somehow different, not just by race, but religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or socioeconomic class is still suffering discrimination.
In an economy that rivals the Great Depression, economic inequality has soared. Many who were in the middle class have joined the ranks of the poor and working classes. The poor have become abjectly poor. Those with sufficient resources consider anyone suffering long-term unemployment, severely reduced wages, or the loss of a home to foreclosure to be lazy, unworthy, and not willing to work hard, which couldn’t be further from the truth. If you can’t afford health care you deserve to die. The most insidious form of discrimination today is socioeconomic.
The Supreme Court righted some wrongs this summer where discrimination was the law. The Defense of Marriage Act definition of marriage as between one man and one woman was struck down in June 2013, giving federal marriage rights to same-sex couples; United States v. Windsor. The Supreme Court also struck down California’s Proposition 8; Hollingsworth v Perry, restoring equal marriage rights to same-sex couples in California. The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
Yet the same Supreme Court gutted an important part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which state and local jurisdictions are subject to Section 5 preclearance; Shelby County v. Holder.
States bent on denying the right to vote to blacks, Hispanics, students, veterans and the elderly quickly jumped on the lapse in the law to impose new draconian voter identification laws, closed polling places and reduced the number of early voting days. Congress must act quickly to restore voting rights to those who have had them taken away by rewriting Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act.
Conservatives define smaller government as one that must stay out of everything, except a woman’s privacy regarding her health care decisions. They want government so big that tiny pieces can fit into every uterus in the country.
Some claim the government should stay out of private business completely, that regulations that protect individual Americans should be unconstitutional. They argue that environmental regulations violate private business’s rights to maximize profits by preventing them from polluting our air, land, and water as they see fit. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee businesses any rights. Businesses are not people.
All Americans should heed Dr. King’s words:
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 a 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. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
Those who fear other races, religions, sexual orientations and social classes must grow to meet the challenges of a changing America and a changing world. At present, those who fear are throwing a temper-tantrum that they are not the ruling class any longer. They remind me of children who would rather take their bat, ball, gloves and bases and go home than play with others on a level playing field.
We have come a long way, but we still have much to overcome.