August 28th was the 50-year anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech. I don’t remember the first march, in 1963, when I was nine years old. My mother belonged to the NAACP so I expect we watched the march on our old black-and-white TV. Even though I don’t remember the march when it occurred, I vividly remember images from it that I saw later; and it had a lifelong impact on me. I continue to grieve for Dr. King.
I recently read an article about the making of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech. He and his speech writers stayed up most of the night before the march crafting that speech. He began with the text they had crafted. He got to the paragraph that ended, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair,” and he paused, overwhelmed with emotion by the weight of the moment. Before he continued, Mahalia Jackson, who stood just behind him, said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Dr. King picked up the speech notes, set them aside, grabbed the sides of the lectern, and continued extemporaneously with, “I say to you today my friends, though even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” From there on out, he preached for all he was worth as only Dr. King could preach. He told it.
The dream he articulated, that even in Alabama, black children and white children would one day hold hands as sisters and brothers, touches the core of my being; for my children are in fact both those black children and those white children combined. They are the product of a multicultural marriage that would have been difficult to pursue back in 1963. In 1954, when I was born, miscegenation was illegal in 16 of the (then) 48 states. Miscegenation means “the mixing of different racial groups, that is, marrying, cohabiting, having sexual relations, and having children with a partner from outside of one’s racially or ethnically defined group.” Historically, the term miscegenation has been used in the context of laws banning interracial marriage and interracial sex, so-called “anti-miscegenation laws,” and is a derogatory term used to refer to interracial relationships. Until 1948, 30 of the (then) 48 states enforced anti-miscegenation laws. The U.S. Supreme Court finally declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in the case Loving v. Virginia in 1967, four years after the March on Washington. Dr. King’s dream is manifested in my marriage, my family, my children.
Today, as I look back at the March, I think it is extremely important to remember the full name of that event. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We must hear that name in the context of the obscene inequity of distribution of wealth in this country, the shameful disparity in financial security that exists between the poor and the rich, the shameful disparity in financial security that exists between the struggling, sinking Middle Class and the wealthy, and the evaporation of decent jobs for decent folks. Statisticians say the recession is ending and the unemployment rate is going down. Don’t believe it. That rate is down because so many chronically unemployed are no longer counted. So many people are wallowing in that valley of despair that King spoke of, having given up hope of ever finding a job again. So many people are wearing the shackles of inequity and continued oppression built into the system; a system that undermines the very concept of freedom by preventing people from having real control over their lives. We lack control over the food we eat; the water we drink; the work we do; the opportunity we want for our children; our safety and security; the actions of our leaders.
Mahalia knew. More than anything, we needed to hear about the dream in 1963; and we desperately need to hear about Martin’s dream again now because there remains a long struggle ahead with much work left to do. We must renew our efforts, rededicate ourselves to the task, and hope again.
I love the joy on Dr. King's face.