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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 24, 2003

Martin Luther King Jr.: 40 years later
Reflections on speech that transfixed nation

By Deborah Kong
Associated Press

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech 40 years ago — on Aug. 28, 1963. It was a year when segregated restaurants were still common in much of the South, when Birmingham, Ala., police used attack dogs and high-pressure fire hoses on nonviolent protesters and when Gov. George Wallace tried to block black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addressed marchers at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963. Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of his famous speech.

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In August, about 250,000 people participated in a "march on Washington for jobs and freedom." King was the last speaker that hot summer day, but his words transfixed the crowd.

"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,'" he said in one of the most often-quoted passages from his address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

"I have a dream that my four little 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."

King's speech endures four decades later because it gave Americans a vision of a nation free of racial discrimination. It has come to be regarded as a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement — an articulation of the values and qualities Americans aspire to.

To mark the speech's 40th anniversary, The Associated Press and The Advertiser asked a range of people for their personal opinions about what kind of progress the nation has made — or failed to make — in fulfilling King's words.

Here are some of their thoughts:

"African-Americans and racial minorities are better off in many respects in 2003 than was true in 1963. Having said that, remember that for Martin Luther King, this was a dream, and it remains an unrealized dream today.

"There are still enormous disparities between blacks and whites in education, income, life expectancy. The list just goes on and on and on. And so while gaps between blacks and whites have narrowed, most of them have not closed."

— JULIAN BOND, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who attended the march as communications director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

"It is unquestioned that America has changed since Dr. King shared his dream of what this nation could become. Dr. King's speech was made at a time when African Americans were fighting for the most basic rights of participation in American society that had long been denied to them because of the color of their skin.

"Although the laws of this nation have changed, people must be conscious of not only Dr. King's words, but the spirit in which they were said. When one listens to the entire speech, you quickly realize that Dr. King's message is about more than a world of integration.

"It is about respecting one another as human beings and recognizing each individual's right to exist in the human community, free of discrimination. Respecting one another day to day is the area where this nation still has a lot of work to do."

— Christopher Jones, deputy executive director of the Hawai'i Civil Rights Commission.

"The truth is that it was the unions and A. Philip Randolph that created and organized (the march). It was SNCC, that I was a member of, that did the logistics. There were six civil rights organizations that did this. Martin Luther King was just one of hundreds and hundreds of people that worked tirelessly to pull this off.

"For blacks, the fact that this was the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and we were still living 'on a lonely island,' (King) said that, and that we have come here today to cash a check that 'has come back marked: insufficient funds,' we as black people heard that.

"White people heard, 'I have a dream.' So all of the things that happened that day — the pledge that all of us took that day, the demands for jobs and justice, were all wrapped up and lost in that 'dream.' "

Still, Joyner said, the nation has come a long way.

"You got the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, all came out of that. ... The whole world has turned around since then. Jim Crow died a slow, agonizing death, but it did die. The world has changed considerably, oh yes. It hasn't come as far as we would like, but it has changed."

— Marsha Joyner, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition — Hawai'i, participated in the 1963 event as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Joyner suggested the event should be remembered for more than King and his famous speech.

"You would have to be a person of color to understand how it feels to ride in a good neighborhood and get pulled over every other time you drive down the highway.

"It looks like everything is cool because you got your basketball players, you got your rappers, you got all these people out here that are making a lot of money.

"Where are people who are majoring in genetics?

"There's so many other things that are going on ... (that) people from my situation, or from the places that I come from, don't have the opportunity to be involved in, let alone know anything about.

"It's a good dream, but to me, and for me, I believe that most of the kids that I know are living a nightmare right now, and it's real hard to get out of that."

— DAVID BANNER, black rapper, 27, released "Mississippi: The Album" in May.

"Regrettably, although many of us have overcome the barriers of prejudice and discrimination, there are scores more who still suffer from ... lack of education, poverty, lack of housing, poor health care and a criminal justice system that focuses more on punishment than rehabilitation.

"It's important to see that now we have more than 40 African-Americans in Congress. We have an administration that has the first African-American secretary of state and national security adviser. We have African-Americans running companies like American Express, Fannie Mae, AOL Time Warner and Merrill Lynch.

"Symbolically, you can look around every day and see evidence of progress. Substantively, when you look at the Fortune 500 companies, when you look at wealth accumulation, when you look at distribution of power, you see that there is still at best second-class citizenship among African-Americans."

— CHARLES OGLETREE, black Harvard Law School professor and co-chairman of the Reparations Coordinating Committee, which is seeking reparations for descendants of African slaves.

"This dream will never be complete if it's not consistent with another great saying of Dr. King's, which is, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'

"Our share of dealing with a dose of bigotry and hatred and bias and discrimination as a reaction to the sad tragedy of Sept. 11 made us more strong, actually, made us more determined to fight back for something we pride ourselves with, which is that we're (part of the) American fabric."

— IMAD HAMAD, director, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Michigan.

"We can point to people of color in very high positions of corporate America, in government, elected office, in the arts and sciences, in just practically every walk of life.

"We still have a ways to go and I think there is still a glass ceiling. That glass ceiling is being chipped away. That's why I believe that we still need policies of affirmative action. I've never believed, however, that affirmative action means quotas or the admission or the hiring of unqualified people. But affirmative action to me is giving people — people who might not otherwise be considered — a chance."

— GARY LOCKE, Democrat, governor of Washington. When elected in 1996, he was the first Chinese-American governor in U.S. history.

Advertiser staff writer Zenaida Espanol contributed the Hawai'i quotes to this report.