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Editorial: We have not yet reached the more perfect Union

Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 5:59 PM

Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. let us in on his dream.

King’s speech, appropriately delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, will go down as one of the best in this country’s history, ranking along with Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” Franklin Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress and John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech.

In short, King laid out the case for the discontent of an entire race in America. And while his stirring finale painted his hopes for this country, King’s opening shamed it.

King spoke of a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal and yet in 1963, 100 years after Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation,” blacks found themselves still in a segregated nation with a hobbled education system, stunted economic opportunities and an perverse justice system. To blacks in 1963, Thomas Jefferson’s words in the “Declaration of Independence” weren’t worth the parchment they were penned on. They were ideals, yes, but galaxies removed from reality.

King knew all to well. He had been jailed for leading peaceful marches. His days had been filled with indignities, his life had been threatened, his house fire-bombed.

Growing up in the South, King had endured Jim Crow laws that denied blacks the right to vote and equal access to hotels, restaurants, public transportation, movie theaters, bathrooms and water fountains. The education system that served blacks was indeed separate. It was anything but equal.

The nation King knew saw Gov. George Wallace stand in a classroom doorway to symbolically block the integration of the University of Alabama. Members of the 82nd Airborne Division parachuted into Oxford, then convoyed for days around town as a show of federal force to ensure the integration of Ole Miss.

These lashes of injustice pained King. Yet, he didn’t strike back. Trained as a Baptist minister and a devotee of Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful activism, his over-arching message reverted back to one simple, yet powerful theme: love will conquer all.

King’s cup overflowed with optimism. Despite witnessing white-hot anger, frothing hate and his people sentenced to third-class citizenship, his dream could not be blurred, nor extinguished.

Fifty years later, his dream washes over us all like an endless shower.

Much of what Dr. King dreamed — that our nation would live out the true meaning that all men are created equal, that sons of slaves and sons of slaveowners would sit down at the table of brotherhood, that his four children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, that black and white children would be able to join hands as sisters and brothers — has come to fruition in living color.

Yet racism, muted and cloaked, still lurks in the hearts and minds of some Americans.

Fifty years after verbalizing his dream, young men and women cannot fathom what King’s brethren endured.

That’s progress.

Fifty years after his revelation, we’re closer to, but have not yet reached the more perfect Union Dr. King and our forefathers imagined.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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