As I sat and watched the rebroadcast by CNN of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., 45 years ago, I realized the historic event took place only a few miles away from where I sit now.
I have seen excerpts of the speech and read parts of it since I was young, but it never touched me as much as it has now. Could be I’m getting older; might be that I didn’t get a lot of sleep the past few days. But I think it’s the fact that there is something in the air these days in the District and no matter who you are, where you are from, what your political views are … you can feel it.
We all seem to gravitate to King’s words, “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.” But on this day, it was something else he said that stood out for me.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring 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.”
In less than 24 hours, our nation will welcome in as President a man who already has opened that door. Children of all ages have run in knowing what is right when so many adults still don’t. And all around me I watch men, women, children; black, white, brown and more; gay, straight; and those who never thought they would, climb out of the quicksands onto the streets of Washington, D.C., to join with others near and far, after years of uncertainty in so many areas “to 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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