Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

January 19, 2014

MLK: The Dream and the Promise

-- — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of having a dream to a crowd of thousands during the March on Washington.

In what has become one of the most famous speeches in American history, King said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. ... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. ...”

More than 50 years later, King’s words still resonate and still speak to the potential of a dream becoming reality and of a promise to be kept.

He gave the “Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a monument dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln who a century earlier had freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln also made one of the most famous speeches in American history with the Gettysburg Address, which noted, “... our forefathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln’s speech concluded with the famed words, “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.”

The Gettysburg Address has been referred to as the speech that consecrated the Declaration of Independence.

With the immortal words, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” the Declaration became a national promise.

Thomas Jefferson was a slaveowner in a nation divided into slave and free states. But he and the nation, whether they meant to or not, made a promise that people are born with an inalienable right to equality and accordingly deserve fair and equitable treatment. By forging Jefferson’s words anew in the wake of the bloody violence of Gettysburg, Lincoln raised the Declaration to the status of “American Scripture.”

Still, the promise of the Declaration was not and has not been easily kept. Women would not receive the right to vote for several decades after Lincoln’s death. African-Americans were emancipated from slavery but had to contend with the brutal strictures of Jim Crow, poll taxes, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan.

Nearly a century after emancipation, men like Martin Luther King Jr. and women like Rosa Parks demanded that the promise of the Declaration be kept. For King, this promise became his Dream.

Sometime after the famed speech in Washington, D.C., King said, “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.’”

Perhaps, the elusive American Dream is the elusive promise of our American Scripture.

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