I Have a Dream – fifty years and counting

This is an unusual blog for me – I hope you find it interesting.

On August 28 1963 Martin Luther King addressed nearly quarter of a million people at a rally in Washington. The message of this great speech and his civil rights work seems clear, though sometimes I wonder about its legacy and whether we have lived up to the dream that he so famously presented. His son, MLK III suggests that his father would be proud of much that has been achieved, but hugely disappointed at other aspects of today’s society.Martin Luther King

It is certainly not my intention to review his speech, so brilliantly crafted and delivered, but, I was stimulated by its theme to collate some stories about slavery and human trafficking – not from any distant past but from contemporary news items from the streets of the UK today.

7 June 2013 – Concern has been raised by a UK charity about the number of Romanian women brought to the UK by criminal gangs and forced into prostitution. A report by the London Mayoral Office suggested that a total of 2,077 people were victims of human trafficking in 2011.

17 June 2013 – Almost 20% of young people on a missing persons’ website are of Vietnamese descent despite only 0.1% of the UK population being Vietnamese. It is believed that they have been trafficked into the UK by gangs to work for low or no wages, in order to protect their families from reprisals in Vietnam.

2 July 2013 – Five people were rescued from a house in Walsall after they had been forced into criminal activity or to act as beggars on behalf of their ‘captor’.

29 July 2013 – Scottish police are initiating a new campaign to tackle the growing problem of human trafficking, involving both adults and children.

2 August 2013 – In Coventry five men appeared in court accused of sexually exploiting teenage girls and are charged with conspiracy to traffic within the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

25 August 2013 – Theresa May, the coalition government’s Home Secretary, has determined that tougher sanctions will be brought in to tackle modern day slavery in the UK.

The fact that the government of the day still has slavery firmly on its agenda tells a damning story about the UK, and I should add, much of the rest of the world too.

How distant is this from Bob Marley’s Redemption Song image of a long-past slavery: “Stolen from Africa, brought to America…”? Not so far, I suggest, but now it involves the whole world; statistics show that tens of thousands of people are taken from their home and trafficked to another country, forced to work for unscrupulous gangmasters, working without pay, living without rights and often without hope.

Have we progressed in fifty years? In many circumstances, yes of course we have, but still with some way to go. Too many are still oppressed and ‘enslaved’ and that does not include those who are fleeing war, political unrest or natural disaster.

Our understanding of equality has come a long way in these past fifty years, or the past forty since the first equality legislation hit the UK statute books, but this is no time to be complacent or to sit back in self-congratulatory satisfaction about societal achievement. There are still many challenges ahead, whilst inequality, discrimination, slavery and poverty still exist.

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I thought on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s great speech we could take a few minutes to re-read its 1500 words and hear the message of his simple and clear rhetoric. Let it be an everlasting blueprint for the way modern societies should continue to evolve.

This is a video of the full speech – and I thought to offer the transcript too.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

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 colour are concerned. Instead of honouring 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 tranquillity 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 marvellous 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 slave owners 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 colour 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 snow-capped 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.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to 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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About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
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5 Responses to I Have a Dream – fifty years and counting

  1. zapmagiczap says:

    War does not determine who is right – only who is left.!!!!!!

  2. Very well observed.

    The dream was a great one and as dreams are by definition aspirational rather practical (he didn’t say “I have a business plan”) that there are still numerous examples of slavery and injustice shouldn’t detract from the greatness of the speech or indeed undermine the immense progress that almost all countries have made since the 60s (I can drink from any water fountain I want in any town in any country in the world)

    But the wealth gap, unemployment rate, crime stats, health outcomes etc are all disproportionately and detrimentally against ethnic minorities and black men and women in particular, including in America.

    So perhaps after 50 years of dreaming, what we do need more of now is a Business Plan. That is certainly what Obama should be aiming for.

    Kolarele
    The Great Speech Consultancy

    • equalityedge says:

      So many people are marking this day in one way or another; thanks for your comment.

      I really like your idea of a Business Plan, but is Obama brave enough to lay out what could or should be done? I think not. The political and social will needed to make “The Dream” a reality, will only be present when individuals (all of them) follow the path laid down by King and others like him; Gandhi and Mandela to name two.

      As King says, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom to 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!

  3. Bernadette nagy says:

    Will people ever want to not subjugate others……

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