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Many thanks to Michael Lee Johnson, who has posted a new interview with me on Interviews Poets, Writers. Check it out.
Dr. King first delivered this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor. On Christmas Eve, 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired this sermon as part of the seventh annual Massey Lectures.
“In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.
I have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.”
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I speak out against racism on a pretty regular basis. And you probably know I’ve made some people mas by doing so. “People like Helen Losse seem to me to drag us backwards with the way they approach the matter of racism.” said one writer.
Others have tried to define racism in a manner that makes it appear less unique than it actually is. Renaissance Guy wrote a blog entry to that effect recently to which I replied,
“1. Racism is alive and well in the US.
2. Racism is America’s original sin.
3. All white people are racists or recovering racists. The choice is up to the individual. Either you are a part of the problem (racist) or a part of the solution (recovering racist). You have to be “born again.” (Not as a Democrat or a Republican but as a recovering racist).”
“…let me explain one more time. Racism is about more than skin color, about more than ethnicity. It is about the white (male) position always being right–always having to be right. It is about refusing to consider that the way black people have lived (in this country) since the beginning of this country has anything to do with what’s going on now. It is about always putting the words of the founding fathers (Old, rich, white men) above the words of black people. It is about refusing to believe that what a black man says could be right, even if that man is the President of the US. It is about pretending you are talking about policy differences, when ever since the slaves were set free it has really been about “forty acres and a mule.” It is about the same “sharing the wealth” that has been spoken of by black leaders for years. It is about falling back on cries of “socialist” when we all know it’s about keeping the black and the poor down unless they play by white man rules.”
Today I came across two instances that help illustrate my point: White people cannot re-define racism and make it go away. I print both with permission.
The first is a statement by Robert T. Canipe, “”I understand racism to be a subconscious indoctrination instead of a conscious choice.” Maybe that will help explain why I say white people are either racists or recovering racists. Being racist has nothing to do with our individual families being overly racist, which they may not have been, and everything to do with American society favoring whiteness, which is racism, over which we have no control. The only way to stop being racist is to become a recovering racist. I say that because I am one. The society in which I live still favors whiteness in ways that I can choose to overlook but that black people can’t. A recovering racist listens to what black people say about racism and acts accordingly.
The second came in an e-mail from M. Quinn.
The Courage of a Former American President
While many Americans remain entirely apathetic with regard to engaging in any authentic discussion on the matter of racism, and for all intents and purposes are clearly petrified to embark upon a discourse on this alleged taboo subject; former President Jimmy Carter has presented himself as a unquestionably courageous guardian of the truth; as he cited that most of the vitriol, and utter contempt waged against President Obama has less to do with the president’s health care proposal, but is squarely rooted in racism.
In fact, there are some within the United States of America who truly believe that a black man does not have the intelligence, fortitude or the right to be the president of the United States.
Mr. Carter’s intrepid position has lead everyone from politicians to the mainstream media to attempt to dismiss his position as completely inaccurate. However, we must ask ourselves, that if the former president’s statements were patently off the mark, then why are terms such as “Afro-socialism” being employed in a utterly bigoted description of President Obama, coupled with signs depicting the president as Adolf Hitler; while others stating we want our country back. We must be very careful in attempting to assign these actions to merely a few extremist, while once again, missing a prime opportunity to have a genuine conversation on the legacy of racism within our nation.
It is undeniable that America has a protracted history of viewing African Americans as third class citizens at best, even when an individual has risen to the heights of an American president; and it is this contaminated mind-set which must be addressed in the 21st century. Unfortunately, many Americans continue their attempt to deny this fact, and proceed with their daily lives as if we can merely ignore the decadent history of racism in our society. The inability of most Americans to first wholly acknowledge America’s decadent past and similarly engage in an honest dialog on the subject of racism, presents the American populous as clearly apathetic at best, and utter cowards at worst in regards to genuinely addressing this social malady.
An authentic discourse regarding racism within American society has been a forbidden prospect for much too long. We must applaud former President Jimmy Carter for his courage, and not remain apathetic regarding engaging in a genuine dialog on racism in our society.
Moreover, courageous individuals such as former President Jimmy Carter must be celebrated for their undeniable valor. It is essential, that “We the People” become boldly unwavering in our pursuit to reverse the scourge of racism in our nation, and similarly commence a national campaign toward implementing sustainable solutions.
Equally, if we as a nation are ever going to achieve that status of true greatness, then we must be courageous enough to deal with matters pertaining to race and racism, without seeking the artificial cloak of denial as some sort of safe haven.
M. Quinn is the Founder of the Campaign to Remove the Veil, which advocates incorporating a comprehensive study of racism into the academic system of American society, and making it a prerequisite for graduation. He specializes in social, political, and historical analysis and commentary.
For another great King video, see Sherry Chandler’s blog.
King died in support of men such as those whose carried the signs “I AM A MAN.” “I may not get there with you… but we as a people will get to the promised land.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
King died a bloody martyr’s death in Memphis, so that we can get there.
On Wednesday morning, I overslept – slept right through the alarm, I guess – but was awakened 17 minutes later by the ringing telephone. Bad news: Paul had died.
We got up confused – bumbled our way to readiness for our day trip to Salisbury. But we finally got on the road. Once there, we stopped by one of the rail fanning sites and chatted with Steve, another rail fan. We had the job of letting him know about Paul. Steve said he’d never seen Bill without Paul (not quite spot on, but you get the idea).
We grabbed a chicken biscuit and went on to the North Carolina Transporation Museum, located in Spencer NC. (Here I digress, Spencer becomes Salisbury along the road.) At the Transportation Museum, we looked at the exhibits in way we’d never seen them before. There were no crowds, as there always are on Rail Fan Day and in the Bumper to Bumper Car Museum, it was actually cool. Bill was able to take lots of pictures, including those of the new (not yet finished) exhibit concerning NC Lining Bar Gangs (Gandy Dancers) that was dedicated on Tuesday during Black History Month. The Museum does a nice job of telling the social as well as the mechanical and economic history of the growth of the railroad.
After we left the museum, we went to the Wye (Salisbury Junction) where we met a couple of rail fans and photographed three trains.
Then supper, and on to Laughing Sky Books, where poet Jenni Russell hosted the store’s first open mic (scroll down). Jenni’s husband Jack (Poet Jack Anders) acted as MC. A small but appreciative crowd listened to prose and poems. Jessie Carty was one of the poets who read. Jenni hopes to have future open mics about every three months.
We got home in time to catch the second half of the Duke game. The stupid Dookies won.
* * * * *
After that darkness we call nighttime, the alarm rang. This time I heard it. And up we got to greet our friend Vic (not to be confused with our Victor, who’s our son), who had planned to drop by. Good news: Vic has an extra ticket for the Wake Forest game, and would Bill like to go? Duh. Vic left, we ate sandwiches, and Bill went to meet Giles to get his hair cut.
Bill was only back for about an hour when we had to leave for the Founder’s Day Convocation at Wake Forest University, where Anthony Parent, my thesis adviser, was speaking. “Weathering Wake: African-American Experience” concerned the history of blacks at Wake Forest. Parent was brilliant, as he always is.
(photo Windows on Wake Forest)
We planned to see him at the reception following. We couldn’t find him, so we decided to eat. After all, Wake Forest can throw a fine party. Hors d’oeuvre included not only veggies and dip, breads and cheeses, but chicken and shrimp on skewers, and petit fours. Wine was poured, coffee was brewed. Caterers gathered empty plates. Bill was going to miss his ride to the game.
Finally, we found Tony, who looked radiant in his doctoral robe and cap. His smile was beautiful. Finally, he is getting the attention he deserves. Tony Parent is the best teacher I ever had. I love him. We talked briefly, and Bill and I rushed home.
Phone calls indicated we crossed paths with Vic on Ransom Road, Vic in a car we don’t recognize, a car that belongs to Steve. We don’t know Steve. Bill drove to meet Vic to walk to the Wake Forest game. Bill met Vic then Steve. They were all in their seats by tip-off. I watched on television. The Demon Deacons won. Wake beat State 65-78.
* * * * *
Today all we have to do is prepare to go to Mooresville for Paul’s memorial service. He will be buried in Arlington (in 4- 6 months) but Saturday will include celebration of his life, followed by a service with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, probably in the rain.
Eric Holder, the nation’s first black U.S. attorney general, says Americans “simply do not talk enough with each other about race.” News article: Read more
Here are a few excerpts from Holder’s speech:
“Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.”
“As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by ‘American instinct’ and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.”
“Black history is extremely important because it is American history. Given this, it is in some ways sad that there is a need for a black history month. Though we are all enlarged by our study and knowledge of the roles played by blacks in American history, and though there is a crying need for all of us to know and acknowledge the contributions of black America, a black history month is a testament to the problem that has afflicted blacks throughout our stay in this country. Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment by our society in general and by our educational institutions in particular. As a former American history major I am struck by the fact that such a major part of our national story has been divorced from the whole. In law, culture, science, athletics, industry and other fields, knowledge of the roles played by blacks is critical to an understanding of the American experiment. For too long we have been too willing to segregate the study of black history. There is clearly a need at present for a device that focuses the attention of the country on the study of the history of its black citizens. But we must endeavor to integrate black history into our culture and into our curriculums in ways in which it has never occurred before so that the study of black history, and a recognition of the contributions of black Americans, become commonplace. Until that time, Black History Month must remain an important, vital concept. But we have to recognize that until black history is included in the standard curriculum in our schools and becomes a regular part of all our lives, it will be viewed as a novelty, relatively unimportant and not as weighty as so called ‘real American’ history.”
There Was a Dream
What More Is There to Say?