Delivered by the author 1/20/08 in West Hartford, Connecticut:
The easy way to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to recall the
stirring words he delivered in late August, 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial in Washington. I have memorized that speech in its entirety and, would
that we had time, I would gladly recite Dr. King's beautiful and inspirational
prose to you today. Dr. King's words bring tears to my eyes whenever I hear
them. Tears of joy when I think of just how far we've come with regard to
honoring the dignity of every human being. And, sadly, tears of sorrow when I
think about the fact that Dr. King's dream has not yet come true for America.
As most of you know, it's not my style to take the easy way out. I'm not
going to take the easy way out and talk about how far we've come. I want to talk
to you about where we've got to go.
It occurred to me earlier today when I was writing these remarks that Dr.
King's dream has not come true because I needed to pause to ask a question of a
few friends of mine. These individuals are far brighter than I, far more
educated than I. The question I was faced with? How shall I refer to the people
that in Dr. King's speech he himself referred to as "Negroes?" Shall I use "black
persons?" Shall I use "African-Americans?" Shall I use "persons of color?"
No! No. Not until such a choice needn't enter my mind and I can call you,
simply, "my friends" will Dr. King's dream come true. Not until the slightest
doubt in the minds of any of you that you are, indeed, my friends, is erased
will Dr. King's dream come true.
On this day, January 20th, 2008, we are very fortunate. We are fortunate that
we are farther away from the hatred and bigotry than we've ever been before.
Would that Dr. King were here to opine on whether or not we who were alive
during his lifetime would ever see a black man as a viable candidate for the
office of the Presidency of the United States. Wonder for a moment what he'd
say, how proud he'd be that the eloquent and charismatic Senator Obama were in
the running for the office some call "leader of the free world."
Free. Huh. Sure, I've heard people say Senator Obama's success means that Dr.
King's dream has come true. That is not so.
Dr. King's dream will not come true until we erase the cycle of poor
self-esteem which growing up with racism breeds. A young man that I know, in
fact, he's sitting right here among us today, is a
fine musician, but must work a very tiring job in the service industry so he can
continue his schooling. He told me that a former schoolmate of his came rolling
by not too long ago in a fancy car, wearing gold chains around his neck. His
schoolmate laughed at him and asked if he'd not like to make fast, "easy" money
selling drugs. My friend, thankfully, told his schoolmate that he'd rather mop
floors than sell his soul. Dr. King's dream will not have come true until
stories like this are a thing of the past.
Dr. King's dream will not come true until people of color are no longer
followed by security guards at the mall. Dr. King's dream will not come true
until the number of black motorists stopped by the police in the town where I
live is equal to or fewer than the number of white motorists stopped there.
You've read it in the newspapers. There are some among you who have voiced
concerns about driving to my place of business because of my town's poor record
with regard to racial profiling. No, Dr. King's dream has not yet come true.
I found it interesting that it was right around this time of year, January
18th of 1968, that singer and entertainer Eartha Kitt embraced Dr. King's ideal
of civil disobedience when dealing with a situation that is all too similar to
the one we have in this country right now. Miss Kitt had been invited by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson
to a luncheon attended by women from many different walks of life to discuss the
problem of crime in the United States. A mere few days before this luncheon took
place, President Lyndon
Johnson had, during the State of the Nation address, proposed an
additional ten percent tax to help pay for the burden of the war on the
Miss Kitt stood up and spoke out loud and long against high taxes, and then
pointed a finger at the First Lady and spat out, "You send the best of this
country off to be shot and maimed,” she said. “They rebel in the street. They
will take [sic] pot and they will get high. They don’t want to go to school because
they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”
Lady Bird Johnson cried when she gave her feeble response. The truth had been
told and there's no arguing with the truth. Now I'll tell you that it ain't nice
to be invited to somebody's house for lunch and then castigate them for the
business of their spouse. But Eartha, Bless her, did indeed do that. Leticia
Baldridge, the etiquette Queen, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, "ça
ne se fait pas" — "this will not be done." But Miss
Kitt did it. Had Dr. King not spoken years before I'd hazard a guess that
Miss Kitt would not have even been included in the guest list. Little did Lady
Bird know that upon allowing Miss Kitt into that luncheon, it was tantamount to
inviting in the dozens of war protesters who at that very moment were
surrounding the White House gates.
Some people were aghast that Miss Kitt had the unmitigated gall to criticize
anything the Johnson administration did given the fact that it was Lyndon
Baines Johnson who signed some of the most significant civil rights legislation
ever created. Eartha Kitt said, "no, that's not enough." And she exercised her
right to free speech. Sadly, she didn't get significant work in this country
until ten years later, due to the cowardice of her potential employers.
Dr. King said that:
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the
moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not
pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen
sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro
needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening
if the nation returns to business as usual.
This year those words ring out with as much timeliness and import as they did
in 1963. We're indeed at a turning point. The country will not return to
business as usual, regardless of whom is elected President. Let us continue to
to assert our legitimate discontent with our voices, wherever and whenever we
have the opportunity.
There's also something we can do silently and in private but that speaks more
powerfully than any thing our voices may utter. Let us vote. Do your best
to convince those who'd not cast a vote due to apathy that indeed their vote
does matter. To those who are conspiracy theorists and believe that
elections are "fixed," I say, there's only one way to fix the elections.
Go to the polls and vote.
Indeed, Dr. King's dream has not yet come true. But for you I have
good news. We can all say to the children and their children that after eight
years of business as usual in Washington, we must remember these times. We are in a position to elect a person
who's not a fat old white guy like me for President. And I don't
think that Dr. King in his wildest dreams would've thought that electing anyone but a fat old white guy President were possible a mere
forty-five years after that historic day in Washington.
So I conclude by telling you that I, like Dr. King, have a dream. I beseech
you, embrace your dreams. They may come true far sooner than forty-five
years from now.
UPDATE 19 JANUARY 2009: TOMORROW BARACK OBAMA WILL BE SWORN IN AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
(All accessed January 20, 2008)