When Reverend King delivered his “Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, he described the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln 100 years earlier, as a “joyous daybreak to end the long night of…captivity.” He also spoke of the “manacles of segregation” and “chains of discrimination” that still held his people in a “shameful condition” even 100 years after the official freeing of American slaves.
King’s words, moving, transcendent and overflowing with hope, inspired generations. The dignity inherent in those words leaves us breathless. King understood the injustice, the persecution, the brutality that his people still suffered, yet warned them against “wrongful deeds” in the quest for racial equality, saying: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” And then he spoke about his 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.”
“I have a dream that one day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
“I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
We have been hearing these words for 54 years-yes, 54 years since King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his earth-shaking speech. And we, as a nation, have made considerable progress toward realizing King’s dream with a list of achievements too long to name and with the election of Barack Obama, our first African-American president. For eight years Obama presided over our nation with superhuman dignity in the face of ignorant, partisan, unjustified criticism; a dignity that mirrored Reverend King’s own.
But recently, as we hurtled swiftly toward our goal of a truly egalitarian society, we somehow lost control of the car and ran headlong into a stone wall of opposition. Now we must live with the whiplash, for a time, and try to pick of the pieces of Reverend King’s dream.
Currently we live in a severely fractured nation–The Divided States of America some have quipped. I can’t help thinking of Humpty-Dumpty:
All of King’s verses, Noble beyond ken, Cannot unite our country again. What can?
I have no answer to that question at this time, but I do know what will NOT unite our country: PEOTUS’ Twitter tantrums, attacking everyone who voices opposition, most recently, Meryl Streep, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, and the cast of Saturday Night Live. The so-called soon-to-be “Leader of the Free World” needs to cultivate that quality that King and Obama have in abundance: DIGNITY; grow a thicker skin; learn to let a few things roll off your back, like Obama did when falsely accused of being born in Kenya for eight years.
Dignity in the face of opposition-that is what we are accustomed to in our best leaders.