Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was named Time Magazine’s
Man of the Year in 1963 and was the youngest person
at the time to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
BY JORDAN GIBBONS
This year will mark the 52nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on Aug. 28, 1963 at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
King began with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation and towards the end of the speech, which was the defining moment of the Civil Rights Movement, King improvised from his prepared text to deliver one of the most influential and memorable speeches in American history.
“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream,” King said. “It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
King delivered this speech 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and now, more than 50 years after King’s speech, questioning whether America has achieved his dream is still valid.
Last year, race relations were highly debated and fueled tensions throughout the country in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
While members of the Southeast Queens community admit the country has come a long way since the time of Jim Crow laws and segregation, there is still more to be done.
Former Councilman Archie Spigner said that America makes progress every day, but it is not enough.
“It’s a slow, steady climb and we just have to keep working,” Spigner said. “Don’t get frustrated. Don’t get overwhelmed by the challenges. Be inspired by leaders like Dr. King and others today.”
Spigner added that he does not think King would take the day off on Jan. 19, which honors his legacy. Spigner said he thinks King would just keep working.
Kevin Livingston, founder of 100 Suits for 100 Men, which is focused on mentoring troubled youth in the Jamaica community, said that King would absolutely be proud of youth activism throughout the country. But, he would probably look down on the increase in Black-on-Black and Brown-on-Brown crime and be unhappy that those issues are not being addressed enough.
“His dream is an everyday process,” Livingston said. “I don’t think there’s a point where we ascertain his dream.”
Bess DeBetham, a Community Board 13 member, said she was saddened and depressed by the state of racial divisions that stewed throughout the nation recently.
She said that her dream is that there will be peace one day.
“It requires in my opinion, taking the time to know and understand different cultures,” DeBetham said. “It is so sad and I pray every night for peace. There is a certain amount of uncertainty in the air.”
The Rev. Phil Craig, pastor at Greater Springfield Community Church, said that King helped bring America a long way, but recent events have shown there is still a gap that needs to be bridged.
He said he believes that the best is still yet to come, but it will not be an easy fight.
“We have more people across the nation, multiculturally, that want to see racism be put away with,” he said. “I’m very excited to see what the next 50 years will bring.”
King’s speech was a success for the liberal civil rights coalition and President John F. Kennedy administration, which had just proposed its civil rights legislation to Congress a couple months earlier.
The words he spoke that day were barely planned and were a combination of several speeches, but the end product will echo through American history for centuries.
“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,” King said to conclude his speech.
Reach Jordan Gibbons at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @jgibbons2.