Dr. King Was No Dreamer

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On January 15, 2007, America will celebrate the birth, death, and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We will hear those powerful words "I Have A Dream.” What many of us don't realize is that Dr. King was no dreamer. He was 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 for yourself.

The original title of the “I Have A Dream” speech was “Normalcy—Never Again.”  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 and a clear indictment of the social conditions in America at that time. 

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,” and added, “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, a clear indictment of America.

Dr. King the prophet said "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, continues to be our reality today.

The "dream" reference actually comes in the middle of the speech. As the story goes, Dr. King was close to ending his nine-minute delivery when the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who was seated behind him said, “Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!" At that point, Dr. King went away from his prepared text.

He spoke of the dream in the context of a horrific reality for “Negro’s” and the poor. 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 the vision in the context of a horrific reality.

On April 4, 1967, Dr. King 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.

It 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-Select Bush is polishing his address to the nation, designed 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” on XM Satellite Radio Channel 169, Producer/Host of the television program “Inside The Issues With Wilmer Leon” 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. © 2007 InfoWave Communications, LLC.

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