Five years ago today I stood in Denver, Colorado’s Mile High Stadium (Invesco Field) at the Democratic National Convention as a delegate to witness Barack Obama accept his nomination as the first African-American candidate for President from a major political party. Surrounded by more than 84,000 people, I listened to the man who would be elected the first African-American President of the United States of America tell us:
It is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.
That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.
And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.
The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.
But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.
“We cannot walk alone,” the preacher cried. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Today, we recognize 50 years since Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed between 200,000 and 300,000 people telling them of his dream for a different kind of America.
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 out in 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 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 their character.
I have a dream today.
The March on Washington was not just about civil rights. It was about jobs as well. The event was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.The march was organized by a group of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations, under the theme “jobs, and freedom”. In 1963, white unemployment was at 5% while African-American unemployment was at 10.1%. As with this year’s anniversary, the march occurred on a Wednesday. And this year unemployment among African-American’s is twice that of whites at 12.6%. The rate for African-American’s between the ages of 18 and 29 is 20.9%.
In his remarks 50 years ago, Dr. King told those in attendance; “We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” And yet, just a few months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act inspired by this march on Washington, based upon a lawsuit filed by the state of Mississippi.
Dr. King laid down a challenge, one which we have yet to meet all the way. Today, there are those in the Republican party who would like nothing more than to drag our country back to the good old days of the 1960’s. Since the Supreme Court decision, Republican controlled state legislatures in Texas, Florida, and North Carolina have implemented voting regulations that dramatically, and disproportionately, restrict the ability of minority and low-income voters to exercise their right to vote. We need to take up Dr. King’s challenge once again, and fight for equality, fight for justice, fight for jobs, and fight for the right of all Americans to vote, without the need for a government issued id.
Five decades after the March on Washington, just a bare majority of Americans – and fewer than one-in-five African Americans – believe that dream has been realized.
What’s more, the percentage of Americans who think race relations in the country are good has declined considerably since President Barack Obama – the nation’s first black president – took office in 2009.
According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month, 54 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that America is a nation where people are judged by their character, not their skin color. Forty-five percent disagreed, including a whopping 79 percent of African Americans.
In the same poll, another bare majority – 52 percent – said race relations in the U.S. are good, which was down from 79 percent who said this in Jan. 2009, 72 percent who said it in 2010 and 71 percent who said it in 2011.
Today Barack Obama, that man who five years ago I watched accept his party’s nomination for president, will join former President’s Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at Lincoln Memorial. We stand today, 50 years after the march, and 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and it appears that we are slipping backwards in time. It’s going to take more than hope and dreams for our country to move from the stalemate of unemployment and inequality that afflicts the minority communities in our nation. If we want to move beyond these afflictions, we must demand that our elected representatives in Washington do their jobs, restore the Voting Rights Act, and invest in education and jobs for all Americans. If we can bail out banks, we can invest in people.
In Orange County the We Still Have A Dream OC Coalition will host a gathering on Sunday afternoon, September 1st from 2 pm until 6 pm at Sasser Park in Santa Ana, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington DC. Sasser Park is at the intersection of Ross Street and Santa Ana Blvd. in the Santa Ana Civic Center.