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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fifty Years, And Still Dreaming

August 28, 1963 was a turning point in American history.  A speech given by an Alabama preacher turned activist, eloquently articulated the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans. That, 'my little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color or their skin, but by the content of their character'.

Over the years, I have heard a number of different stories of how that iconic speech came about.  Some say that Dr. King's prepared remarks had blown away from the podium in the afternoon wind.  Others claim that a woman in the front of the crowd shouted, "Tell them about the dream", referring to a sermon given in Detroit earlier in the year.  One thing is certain:  The majority of King's sixteen minutes on stage were ad-libbed.

On the surface, it may appear that in 50 years, King's dream has been realized.  But, look closer.

When authorities are faced with the necessity of listing an offense as a "hate crime", we are still dreaming.  When politicians rush through so-called "voter ID laws", in order to make voting more difficult for minority voters, we are still dreaming.  When African-Americans make up only 13% of the general population, but account for 40% of our nation's prison population, we are still dreaming.

So long as the United States has over 1,000 active hate groups, our dream will not come true.  So long as political pundits and commentators are able to make a living, shamelessly race baiting and fear mongering, our dream will never come true.  So long as police are given authority to "stop and frisk" a person, simply for the crime of looking suspicious not being white, we are still dreaming.

It's difficult not to take a "glass half empty" look at civil rights and race relations.  Yes, in 50 years, we have taken many steps forward.  But, at times, it's almost as if we've taken twice as many back.