Saturday, August 28, 2010

Normalcy: Never Again

Mikaela Reyna
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
("Normalcy: Never Again" is the actual title of King's "I Have a Dream" speech, I'm told. He gave this speech 47 years ago, on August 28, 1963. I was five months old.)

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 withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles 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 languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. 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 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 unalienable 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 the Negro 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 the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no 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 promises 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 quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for 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 Negro 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 Negro 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. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

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 Whites 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 northern 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 the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners 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; one day right there 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 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."

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 snowcapped 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, when we allow freedom to 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!"


Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

King's vision was of moving forward. A nation that lived beyond the narrow confines of self and our fears.

Among many other things, Beck's act today is nothing more than getting a bunch of people to pay attention to him. "Look at me!" I've said it before and I'll say it again. Glenn Beck is nothing more than a carnival barker. At the same time, the only attraction he's wants people to see is . . . Glenn Beck! If anyone gathering on the Mall today to hear him speak has the illusion that he, Beck, cares for them, their fears, their hopes (such as they might be) for our country, they are profoundly wrong-headed.

Whether it's the books that don't sell, the movie that bombed, or his daily display of mental breakdown, Beck's only concern is celebrity. Like so many in show business he understands there is no such thing as bad publicity, so he doesn't care that his words are empty of meaning. He doesn't care that those who gather today will only hear their own fears and bigotries thrown back at them, reinforcing and exacerbating rather than calming and transforming them. He will be satisfied that so many, including us, are talking about him.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I apologize for being all Bubba-esque and posting again, but, I received the following email that I would like to share. My reason for doing so is simple - it is as much a part of the problem as Beck himself. First, the email, then, I'll explain what I mean.

"Dear Geoffrey,

Right now, Glenn Beck is in the middle of his "Restoring Honor" rally on the National Mall. Beck's gathered thousands -- including Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann -- at the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech.

Beck called his chosen date and location "divine providence," but given Beck's racially charged rhetoric and his constant misrepresentation of social justice and the civil rights movement [1], we're tempted to use far less polite words for it.

Beck has a right to free speech, but that doesn't mean we're going to let him speak for us.

Join our simple witness for social justice and Dr. King's legacy: Change your Facebook status to "I still have a dream of social justice" or another slogan that honors Dr. King and his work."

While I admire the earnest desire to remember the March on Washington, I also think such earnestness, which includes taking Beck and this rally far more seriously than it should be, is as much part of the problem as anything.

By all means honor the March. Just don't elevate Beck, or Palin (whose facility for the English language seems so powerful that she actually invents words to capture her meaning), or the rest of them beyond what they are - celebrity distractions from the serious problems we face. They have no answers for us. All they offer us . . . is themselves.

In the end, if the American people do support fear, and emptiness, that is all we will get. I believe we will be better than that. Sadly, right now, we have to put up with a whole lot of crap.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Not his best speech, in my opinion. I'd give that title either to "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" (04 April 1967--Riverside Church, 1 year to the day before he was assassinated) or to "I've Been to the Mountaintop," preached in Memphis the night before he was killed.

But the full speech is better than the snippets usually given in popular culture.

Marty said...

I was in Jr. High when King gave this speech. I remember it well. Earlier that year I watched black kids my age on TV being violently washed off the streets of Birmingham with fire hoses and attack dogs. A couple of months later my grandfather died. As we exited the First Baptist Church in this very small segregated Texas town...that had signs on downtown businesses that read "No Colored People Served Here" that church yard ...what I saw... will remain with me the rest of my life. Black people everywhere mourning my grandfather's death. You see, he was the town Blacksmith. I wonder what they did without his help, since every other business in town refused to serve "colored people"?

Beck can kiss my lily white a double s.

Marty said...

The larger town, 13 miles to the south, had a huge billboard that read "The Blackest Land The Whitest People".