On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Ga., as the son of one pastor and the grandson of another at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. King’s first name originally was Michael; but the name was later changed to Martin. As a young adult, King became ordained and attained his doctorate and embarked on his own career as a preacher at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. King had an innate, passion directed awareness of racial and economic disparity in America and began speaking on the issue outside of the walls of his church. In so doing, King became a public figure and he was an iconic figure whose uncompromising passion and energy inspired millions to join his cause.
On August 28, 1963, King led an estimated 250,000 civil rights supporters on a March on Washington and he delivered his infamous, “I have a dream” speech. In that speech, which was delivered when John F. Kennedy was president, King said that he dreamed of a day when citizens will be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Prior to the infamous march (June 11, 1963), Americans had witnessed Alabama Governor George Wallace block the door as two African-American students (a young man and a young woman) tried to enter the University of Alabama. President Kennedy had sent the National Guard to the university to remove Wallace from the door and allow the students to enter the university. On December 1, 1955, when Eisenhower was president, Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, had refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Ala..
Needless to say, King was facing a racist, confused and belligerent America when he delivered his iconic speech in Washington. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had not yet been written nor enacted. African-Americans had not yet achieved the right to vote in all states in America. This was the backdrop on which King painted his vision of an egalitarian America in which race is overlooked and people are seen as individuals and judged according to their character.
With the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (both signed by President Lyndon Johnson after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963), African-Americans nationwide won the legal rights of which they had been deprived for over a century and a half. However, the racial divide remained and racism, especially in the South, continued to run rampant in America. King’s passionate and eloquent words in his “I have a dream” speech became more and more muted as the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and other racist organizations committed lynchings and cross-burnings throughout America, even in parts of “progressive” California.
King’s work was far from done and the evangelical, civil rights pastor continued to speak and lead marches across America. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee while speaking to a group of African-American workers who were protesting unequal wages in the city’s sanitation department. In that speech, which was entitled, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop,” King’s words were especially prophetic and indicative of his profound spiritual awareness and connection to the Beyond. King became a celebrated, iconic martyr, a symbol of freedom and an encircling reminder that America’s quest for racial equality, equal justice under the law and equal access to employment and equal wages is far from over.
Despite two inaugurations of America’s first African-American president, the country still has a long ways to go before it can claim to have achieved Dr. King’s dream of a totally egalitarian America. Despite the fine leadership of President Barack Obama aimed at attaining King’s dream, America has witnessed a recent rash of police shootings of African-Americans throughout the country. It seems that no city, no state, no region of America is exempt from the indiscriminate rash of police shootings of African-Americans: The Eric Garner chokehold death, NYC, 2014; the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., 2014; the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif., by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police in 2009, and numerous other shootings.
Without a doubt, King’s prophetic message still resonates today. Like a mirage, King’s dream still eludes America to this day, appearing closer, attainable, and ever-present, only to disappear under the canopy of yet another police shooting or murderous act by a white, racist, domestic terrorist such as Dylann Roof.
America is a relatively young nation with yet a lot of growing pains ahead of it. In the meantime, an ideal has been launched by a prophetic pastor from the Ebenezer Baptist Church who believed that the inner reaches of the human spirit were color blind and that a mature America one day will look to each person’s character before passing judgment.