Dr. King Was No “Dreamer�

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[National: Commentary On Dr. King]


On April 4, 2008, America mourned the loss and commemorated the assassination of a visionary, a prophet, a true revolutionary, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was 40 years ago today while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee with Billy Knolls, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, and James Orange that a shot rang out. Dr. King was thrown backwards to the floor and was killed by a single gunshot to the neck.

What has troubled me over the years and troubles me to this day is how Dr. King, the visionary, the prophet, the revolutionary was 40 years ago murdered in the flesh. The man, the human was assassinated at the hands of our government and post mortem his vision, action, and sacrifice has been hijacked, compromised, and relegated to being just a “dreamer.”

You see, “dreamers” are safe. We are comfortable with dreamers. Why? First of all, to be a dreamer you must be asleep. You must be in a restful state. Dreamers are comfortable in that sleep state. Dreamers are docile, easy to manipulate, and non-threatening.

So to cast Dr. King in the light of a dreamer allows the powers that be to convince us that action that comes from clear vision is not necessary. It allows the oppressor to convince the oppressed to be patient, non-revolutionary; yours will come by-and by.

We hear those powerful words "I Have a Dream…" What many of us fail to realize is that Dr. King was no dreamer. He was as I just said a visionary, not some abstract thinker or philosopher. He was a prophet and a true revolutionary.

The best way to pay tribute to Dr. King and his total sacrifice is to understand what he stood for. Start by reading two speeches. First, read “I Have a Dream.” Second, read “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence.” Don’t allow others to selectively define Dr. King for you. Read these two speeches and decide for yourself.

As I understand it, and I may be a bit off, is that the original title of the “I Have A Dream” speech was “Normalcy—Never Again.” If that is the case, that title, “Normalcy-Never Again” is a real indicator of what is to come. It’s a clear statement that what has historically been accepted-what has been normal; oppression in America will no longer be tolerated.

Dr. King the realist states, "…we must face the tragic fact that 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 an appalling condition." That was no dream; that was our reality in 1963 and a clear indictment of the social conditions in America at that time. It continues to be the reality for too many in America today. A reality for those children languishing in our inner-city schools, their parents who are loosing their jobs and loosing their homes, and those unjustly incarcerated in American jails and prisons.

Dr. King the strict constructionist referred to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. He stated, "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." Again, no dream in that statement, that’s a clear indictment of America.

Dr. King the prophet offered hope by saying, “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.” He said this because he clearly understood the power of hope, as a minister he clearly understood the power of faith.

He also understood that hope unrealized, faith misplaced results in distrust, disappointment, despair and anger. It leads to revolution. Dr. King the realist said, “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.” He went on to say, "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 foundation of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges." These are the words of a true revolutionary not a dreamer.

He continued, “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.” That was the reality then and based upon the events in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election, Ohio in 2004, and the disenfranchisement of voters in the Democratic Primaries in Florida and Michigan this continues to be our reality today.

Before Dr. King talks about the dream, he says that we must 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.”

In light of the November 25, 2006 murder of Sean Bell, the March 16, 2000 murder of Patrick Dorismond, the February 4, 1999 murder of Amadou Diallo, we still find ourselves victims of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality, racial profiling, and Driving While, and some times Walking While Black.

The "dream" reference actually comes towards the end of the speech. As Dr. King was close to ending his nine-minute delivery he said, “…so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” It’s important to understand that he spoke of the dream in the context of the horrific reality for “Negro’s” and the poor that he had just articulated. What makes the “dream” significant is its juxtaposition against America’s reality, failures, and oppression of its own citizens.

Dr. King was correct then and proves to be prophetic today. I'll take some license here--We must face the tragic fact that based on the unemployment rate for African Americans, the racial make up of the majority of those incarcerated in America, and the horrific failure of the government’s response in Hurricane Katrina “…the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity…the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”

It’s not the “dream”; it’s that vision in the context of a horrific reality.

Dr. King’s prophecy continued. On April 4, 1967, a year to the day before Dr. King was assassinated, he delivered “Beyond Vietnam: A time To Break Silence.” If you replace Vietnam with Iraq, Dr. King the prophet and visionary is as relevant today as he was in 1967.

A few lines of the revised speech would read as follows: There is a very obvious and almost facile connection between the “War on Terror,” the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the struggle I, and others have been waging in America. It once seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor through the Peace Dividend from the Clinton administration. Then came the buildup in Iraq, this so-called “War on Terror” and I watched the dividend squandered and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds and energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Iraq continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.

Five years ago, as America was preparing to go to war in Iraq, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsay estimated that the war would cost between $100 to $200 billion dollars. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz claimed that Iraq could “really finance its own reconstruction.” Lindsey went on to say that “The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy.” Lindsay was removed and the White House "re-estimated" the cost at $50 to $60 billion. The estimated budget authority is now over $500 billion.

Dr. King would continue: Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Iraq. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.
So, as President Bush and Vice-President Cheney continue to fool the nation and misrepresent the truth in a feeble attempt to "unite our country," around this “serge,” the “new direction,” and the “way forward” in Iraq, remember, those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Dr. King and his lessons are as relevant today as in 1967.

Again, if America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Iraq. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.

Don’t take the “dream” out of context. Dr. King was talking about our nightmare.


Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “On With Leon,” Producer/Host of the television program “Inside The Issues With Wilmer Leon,” a regular guest on CNN’s Lou Dobb’s Tonight, and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com.
© 2008 InfoWave Communications, LLC.

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