It was 1963. The nation was at a virtual boiling point. Despite marked gains in the civil rights struggle from integrating lunch counters and universities to equalizing buses, the fight for justice was far from over.
As fire hoses and police dogs continued to be unleashed on those seeking basic human rights, and freedom riders testing desegregation in the South were attacked by angry mobs, one man possessed the unique ability to not only unite the masses across all racial lines, but also candidly highlight the ills of society.
Although African Americans were free from the bondages of slavery, they were only beginning the long struggle for equal footing in education, employment, housing and opportunity in a land built on the backs of their enslavement. Following his own arrest earlier that year during a non-violent protest, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convened hundreds of thousands in Washington and delivered his infamous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. On the 47th anniversary of this momentous occasion, we must RECLAIM THE DREAM – for it is still far from being truly fulfilled.
On August 28th (the precise anniversary of MLK’s speech), the National Action Network’s 47 chapters will join with other civil rights leaders, clergy and progressive activists as we lead a massive rally and march in Washington, D.C. As a student of MLK’s teachings, I can think of no other appropriate way to simultaneously pay homage to our great civil rights leader and also highlight our ongoing struggle than to once again gather at the nation’s capital. We will assemble at Dunbar High School at 11 a.m. sharp and march from there for the sake of our community, for the future of our children and for the betterment of the entire nation.
In his “I Have a Dream Speech,” MLK remarked, “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’”
When the Black unemployment rate is three times the White unemployment rate in metropolitan areas like Memphis and Minneapolis, we cannot be satisfied. When parents cannot provide basic health care for their children, we are not satisfied.
When the Department of Education estimates that by the end of high school, White students are about six times as likely to be ready to pursue college-level biology courses as Black students, we are nowhere near satisfied. When our prisons are disproportionately filled with minority occupants, and the numbers on ‘stops and frisks’ continue to racially profile and target people of color, we are not satisfied. When Blacks with the same education level as their White counterparts still suffer from extremely higher unemployment rates, we are not satisfied.
And when Blacks are unduly losing their employment and homes in a continuing economic crisis, we are far from being satisfied. This is undoubtedly a distinct moment in history.
On one hand, African Americans have excelled to levels never before imaginable – culminating with the election of President Barack Obama. But as Black business and political leaders continue to crack the proverbial ceiling, unfathomable inequities permeate around the country. Until we see a level playing field that truly grants everyone access to equal education, health care, housing, employment and liberty and freedom, we must march on.
In the struggle for basic human rights, there are – and always will be – opponents and roadblocks along the way. As we gather on the anniversary of MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on Aug. 28th, right-wing TV and talk show pundit Glenn Beck will be convening conservative Republican and Tea Party folks at the Lincoln Memorial. But while Beck and those supporting him attempt to highjack the dream, we will drown out their vitriol with the call for freedom, equality and justice. Beck has dubbed his Aug. 28th event as ‘Restoring Honor,’ but it is precisely the opposite. Insulting the memory and legacy of our nation’s greatest civil rights leader, Beck proves yet again that he is an advocate for division and an opponent of progress. We cannot be sidetracked by this negativity and by those whose only purpose is to garner higher ratings.
Join us on Aug. 28th as we RECLAIM THE DREAM for everyone in a peaceful, non-violent fashion – just as MLK would have wanted us to do on this 47th historic anniversary.
The Rev. Al Sharpton is the president and founder of the National Action Network.