King’s Dream And Legacy Still Challenge Us

Source: Leonard Pitts Jr. /

And so Dream season rolls round again.

That’s Dream, of course, as in “I Have A …” We celebrate Martin Luther King Day today, which means schoolchildren dutifully reciting the great 1963 oration, television news dutifully replaying the grainy black-and-white footage — and many people dutifully missing the point.

At least, that’s how it often seems to me.

In some ways, King is a victim of his own success. The controversial ideals he championed and for which he was killed — voting rights for all, access for all, liberty and justice for all — have become accepted to a degree he would have found difficult to believe. The march he led, the one that troubled the president and riled the conservatives, has become revered as one of the signature moments of the American experience. And as a result, that speech he gave, that tough-minded recitation of American wrongs, that preacherly prophecy of American redemption, has become a Hallmark card, elevator Muzak, bland cliche.

I have a dream, the schoolchildren say. I have a dream, the newscast says. I have a dream, the people say. I have a dream. A dream. A dream.

They wax eloquent about the dreamer and the dream and, listening, you find yourself wondering if they realize that it was much more than a dream. That it was not, in other words, some airy-fairy castle in the sky to be reached by dint of hoping and wishing, but a noble place to which the nation might lift itself if people were willing to sacrifice and work. Nor did King counsel endless patience in expectation of that goal.

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