NOTICE | EDITO: Dream Team
As a president named Coolidge once said, America’s business is business. So there will be sales galore today. Like Presidents Day. Or Labor Day. Give them a happy ending – and a three-day weekend! – Everytime. Better yet, a four-day weekend and a Black Friday before Thanksgiving for all that Christmas shopping.
Thus, the country will officially celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday next Monday. But her birthday is today, January 15th. Those familiar with this column know that we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday on his birthday. Same with Washington. And we will continue to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday on a Saturday when necessary. It seems more real.
It’s been about a dozen years, but we remember when a big-name commentator – you know him as Juan Williams from Fox News – came to Little Rock to speak to a gathering of inky wretches. What is the collective name of a group of columnists? A rattle? A complaint?
Mr. Williams, always gracious and insightful, delivered his entire speech from the perspective of Martin Luther King Jr.: Would the man, the preacher, be proud of modern America? Or would he cry instead? Thesis by Juan Williams: How are dreams doing today?
It’s a question many of us unfortunately ask every January 15th, MLK’s birthday. “Unfortunately” because such questions should not be limited to a single calendar day.
As Juan Williams said, the preacher from Georgia would have been delighted, no doubt, with many things. Remember, he lived in a world where not only private golf courses and motels could refuse black people, but where the government(s) also actively worked to discriminate. Politicians have been elected for promising to stand at the school gate.
Today, if there’s still a Whites Only water fountain sign, it’s in a civil rights museum, used as a teaching tool to show kids that, no, their teachers aren’t kidding about life in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. These things happened. As hard as that is to believe.
Martin Luther King would be amazed at the faces in Congress. And the portraits hanging in the White House of former American presidents. And the front pages of today’s newspapers, which often include a picture of the Vice President of the United States.
Some of us think he would be amazed to walk into a pizzeria in modern America and what he would see there. People of all colors sitting together, eating together, living together, being together, growing old together.
And, as Juan Williams told us that day, Reverend King would probably be disappointed with how things are going in other spheres of human endeavor. As in the education, crime, housing and other endeavors of its people, that is, all of us.
The Reverend Martin Luther King is unlikely to announce Game Over in regards to the progress he envisioned. Dr. King’s horizons were broader than politics, his understanding deeper than just the color of things. He went to their essence. And like other prophets, he would see – no matter how much progress we have made – that we are still weighed in the balance. And too often, we are caught out.
SOME OF US prefer “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as Martin Luther King’s quintessential communication. (We love the written word.) Then again, his most famous effort was arguably the “I Have a Dream” speech. So what about the dream today?
“The sweltering summer of rightful Negro discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”
What would he say about the current state of American freedom? Certainly, there are more political freedoms than in his time. And not just among different races, whatever “race” might mean today. But only the most naive, or the most dishonest, would admit that this fight has been completely won.
Freedom and equality, he says. How many thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people – black, white, in between – lost their freedom in prison? What about the life of crime and drug addiction that got them there? Or were relegated to living without a decent education, and therefore without a job, without a home, and without a future?
“I 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 together at the table of brotherhood.”
Now we are convinced that the dream is becoming reality. Maybe not “mission accomplished”, but there is no doubt that such thoughts are no longer just dreams.
“I dream that my four grandchildren 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.”
Again, getting closer every day, my brother.
“This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith, we can carve out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we can transform the tinkling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we can work together, pray together, fight together, go to jail together, stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
We are not as close as Reverend King would have liked on this last point. We have not yet carved a stone of hope in the mountain of despair. Our faces are turned towards Zion, most of us. Corn … .
As they say in the churches today, He’s not finished with us yet. But we like to think he’s made progress.
It doesn’t take much imagination to think that if Reverend King looked at a newspaper today, he could find many ways to be disappointed. It also doesn’t take much of the imagination to think, in many ways, that his dream is getting closer to reality year after year. Saying nothing has changed is as wrong as saying we’re done. But one day we will get there. As long as there are people like Martin Luther King to lead us. And there always seems to be.
“And when that happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and from every hamlet, from every state and from every city, we can hasten that day when all the children of God, the black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, can join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thanks to Almighty God, we are free at last!”
Emphasis on “finally”. Because when we finally get there, it will have been a long time coming.
But the management is good. And the wind is at our back.