Volume XI, Issue 35 ~ August 28 - September 3, 2003

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They Had a Dream
by M.L. Faunce

Editor’s note: August 28 is the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.The italic passages you are reading are some of King’s words.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of light and of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. … But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.

Back in the early ’60s in my first job in Washington, several secretaries in my office would work their week, then return home to the Norfolk, Virginia, area and join sit-ins at shoe stores and lunch counters. What they were able to enjoy in Washington — the simple freedom of trying on a pair of shoes or sitting down in a café for a coke or a cup of coffee — was denied them in their small hometowns.

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

Sally and Althea were my friends and the most peaceable women I had ever known. Yet underneath the well-coifed hair and the Jackie Kennedy dresses, the denial of their most basic American rights smoldered in their hearts.

One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

I was shocked at the treatment these women my own age had experienced. Back then, black people had access to ordinary retail outlets in much of the U.S., but there were pockets, including here in Anne Arundel County, that still enforced the so-called color line.

One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

Mondays during that hot, muggy summer in 1963 would find us talking about our weekends over lunch, my trips to Ocean City with friends; their visits home, a journey back in time to places where they were discounted, discriminated against, disenfranchised except in their own churches and communities. I don’t ever remember words of anger from them; I do remember their determination and pride.

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

Before that steamy month would end, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the much-heralded civil rights march on Washington would keep my friends in Washington.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.

Thousands arrived here on freedom buses and trains and joined Rev. King at the Lincoln Memorial to demand “meaningful civil rights legislation from Congress, immediate elimination of all racial segregation in public schools throughout the nation, prohibition of racial discrimination in hiring, a $2-an-hour minimum wage across the board, nationwide.” Now, those desires all seem so basic, so logical, so American.

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King’s voice soared as high as the hopes of the 250,000 strong gathered in attendance. Speaking the refrain “I have a dream,” his voice strained with emotion, evoking the belief that blacks and whites could live in harmony.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. … But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

Then, King recalled the words of Lincoln and the promise that all would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Rev. King’s speech on that hot summer day 40 years ago is now considered one of the greatest and most influential speeches ever made in this country.

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.”

My friends were there that day sharing the dream. I didn’t go to the beach that weekend. I watched the March on Washington on TV. “You should have been there,” Sally and Althea said quietly over lunch that Monday.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” …

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”


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Last updated August 28, 2003 @ 3:01am