Fifty years ago yesterday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech for a massive crowd on the mall in Washington D.C. in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
The speech was offered as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and as we all know, at that time in those days there was much room for improvement when it came to opportunity and equal rights for African Americans. Though slavery had long been abolished and African Americans had the right to vote, in 1963, they still experienced massive amounts of discrimination and racism at the hands of individuals, private businesses and governmental agencies. Schools weren’t integrated and even with the right to vote, intimidation and violence was rampant and an effective way of discouraging African Americans from showing up at the polls. In those days, 21 states also prohibited interracial marriage.
So how far have we come since August 28, 1963? Very far — including in the White House, which now has its first president of color.
But does that mean we can safely say discrimination is behind us?
When it comes to issues related to justice and equal rights, huge hurdles remain — not only for African Americans, but for Latinos, immigrants, women, gays, the elderly and, perhaps most glaringly, anyone in this country who happens to be poor. Environmental racism, unequal access to quality education and health care, lack of economic opportunities, ageist hiring practices, unequal pay and countless other issues remain firmly entrenched.
Today, the racism, classism, sexism, ageism may not always be so overt — but it is still there, in the form of “stand your ground” laws which allow private citizens to shoot first and ask questions later, or legislation which makes voting more difficult or restrictive than it already is. Then there’s the Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act which was ironically put in place during the Civil Rights struggle to ensure fair voting practices were followed for all, and now is no longer a tool that can protect minority voters.
So how far have we come? Very far….but not far enough.
On this 50th anniversary of “I Have A Dream” let’s take the time to contemplate on where we should — and indeed must — put our collective energies in ensuring equality for all. The battles may have gotten smaller and more personal, but the war is far from over.