Today would have been the 94th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I was at home watching TV when the news flash came over the screen. Martin Luther King had been shot. Lil Bee next to me froze and told me shhh and tears filled her eyes. It was April 4th, 1968. A shock of fear. This was not Speed Racer, or Superman … Everybody huddled around the tv set.
The next day, Ms. Grant, my 4th grade teacher, would begin the day with a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I learned we had the same birthday. and so much more. As time passed his words and his life would inspire me forward when the headwinds were in front of me.
When they yelled ‘kike’ or ‘heeb’ out the college dorm windows. When college classmates in the small town of Fredonia thought Jews had horns. Or when we drove from New York to Florida through the South and passed the Ku Klux Klan on the side of the road, big cross torch flames and my mom said to us they are out to get the Jews. For years I would deny being Jewish. And I would deny any thoughts of being gay.
This day, his day, our day, my day would become a federal holiday in 1986. A bill signed by Ronald Reagan against the shagrin of many Republicans including Senator Jesse Helms who took to the filibuster. Reagan took King’s side.
The words ” I have a dream ” became etched into my soul. As a young boy I would often asked myself: What is my dream? Those dreams evolved. There was something more out there to live a different kind of life. I dreamed of place like West Hollywood. A place where we could all be one big family. This city was my dream. And so I moved out west around the birth of cityhood and opened a store on Santa Monica Blvd. And never left.
Lately the politics of this city have divided us again. One person’s dream does not have to come at the expense of anther person’s dream. The flag of all the colors of the rainbow included us all. My dream of a city that was one big family has been compromised. The new guard does not appreciate the building blocks of the city and some want to tear it down. A city council seat has become a stepping stone for personal gain. The mayor would not shake the hand of the nurse who gave over 400 Monkeypox and Covid vaccines to front line workers at my shop because of her own hate.
The words of Dr. Martin Luther King should never be forgotten. Etched with the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, is the idealism and the hopes of King’s words.
Martin Luther King’s speech was delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It became one of the defining moments of the 1960s civil rights movement as Black Americans protested racism that still festered a century after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves.
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of whithering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society, and finds himself an exile in his own land, and so we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great 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.
This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.
We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy, which has engulfed the Negro community, must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.
And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘when will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.
We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.
We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.
We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating ‘for white only.’
We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.
No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.
You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, today my friends.
So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
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.
I have a dream, that one day, on in the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream, that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
I have a dream, that one day, every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow 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.”
Today marks 60 years since that speech, and 55 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated. His words apply to all of us.
Tomorrow January 16th is a National Holiday. I hope we can reflect on how far we have come as a nation. We can look to man like Barrack Hussien Obama and Michelle Obama and be proud that there once was more good than evil in the world.
For one day, let’s honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who gave his life to bring down the lines that divide us. For one day can we try to reach across the aisle and find common ground.
What’s your dream?