On Jan. 21, 2019, America celebrated the birth, death and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He would have turned 90 years old on Jan. 15, 2019. We will hear that powerful speech, “I Have a Dream.” What has troubled me over the years is how Dr. King, the visionary, prophet and revolutionary’s vision, action and ultimate sacrifice have been hijacked, compromised and relegated to being those of just a dreamer.
Dreamers are safe, docile and non-threatening. People are comfortable with dreamers. Why? To be a dreamer, you must be in a restful state, usually asleep. To cast Dr. King in the light of a dreamer allows people to be convinced that action resulting from clear vision is not necessary. It allows the oppressed to be fooled into being patient and non-revolutionary; yours will come by-and by. It allows Dr. King’s “Dream” — his vision — to remain just a dream.
What many fail to 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.
As I understand it, the original title of the “I Have A Dream” speech was “Normalcy — Never Again.” That title was a real indication of what was to come. It was a clear statement that what had been accepted — what had been normal, i.e., oppression in America, would no longer be tolerated.
Dr. King the realist said, “… 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….” That was no dream; that was the Negro’s reality in 1963 and a clear indictment of the social conditions in America. It continues to be an unfortunate reality for too many children languishing in inner-city schools, parents losing jobs and 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. … 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 the African-American human condition!
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.
Before Dr. King talks about the dream, he says that we must march ahead. “We cannot turn back…. We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” In light of the October 2014, murder of Laquan McDonald, II in Chicago, and the June 2018 murder of Antwon Rose II in East Pittsburgh, and many others, African-Americans still find themselves victims of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality, racial profiling and Driving While Black — and sometimes Walking While Black.
The “dream” reference comes toward the end of the speech. As Dr. King was close to concluding his nine-minute delivery, the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who was standing 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 and 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 the Negro 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 — their nightmare!
On Aug. 31, 1967, Dr. King delivered The Three Evils of Society Address at the National Conference on New Politics. During this address he said, “I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism. Not only is this our nation’s dilemma it is the plaque of western civilization.”
Dr. King’s words were so profound and prophetic. Today America is led by a racist president who extols the “virtues” of neo-Nazis, wants to ban Muslims and claims that Mexicans are rapists. Its tax policy facilitates excessive materialism with a tax scheme that from 2001 through 2018, reduced revenue by $5.1 trillion. Sixty-five percent of the savings went to the richest fifth of Americans, with 22 percent of them going exclusively to the top 1 percent. America spends more on its military than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the UK and Japan combined.
Until every American’s reality reflects the founding principles of this great nation:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Dr. King’s “Dream” for too many in America will remain a nightmare.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer/host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com.