Martin Luther King – we celebrate his birth today. A celebration that would have been unthinkable 53 years ago, when this address was delivered at a Rally in Chicago. In 1965 the Civil Rights Movement was gaining traction, but it was far from over. In 1965 even cities like Chicago were facing rampant discrimination in housing, jobs, schools. The struggle for equality was not the sole property of the South. Racial discrimination was a nationwide thing; affecting every city in America and it was the Civil Rights Movement throughout the U.S. that brought attention to what was going on in neighborhoods all over the country.
If Civil Rights was to be a reality – if equality in jobs, housing and schools was going to be achieved it would have to be achieved on a nationwide level. And even though the most violent of racist backlashes took place in the Montgomerys and Atlantas of the country – those were the places that attracted the most attention. The situation was the same everywhere.
Dr. King was one of the most visible and eloquent crusaders of the Civil Rights movement. Certainly not the only one, but he was a focal point and the epitome of leadership in the face of deadly opposition. His was the approach of non-violence, of peaceful disobedience. And even though there were many voices, exasperated by turning the other cheek, calling for violent action, it was King who refused to give in. It was King’s message of peace and understanding that gained so many more followers, of many races, to rally to the cause. And even though Dr. Martin Luther King was the victim of a violent act and that violence was threatening to tear apart the fragile fabric of racial harmony, the overall message of peace through non-violence has continued to this day.
And this day it is needed more than ever – this day Dr. Martin Luther King and his message and actions need to be revisited. That, in a short period of time the struggles and sacrifices and achievements are threatening to be undone by this new racism, this new encouragement, this new hatred. We can’t lose sight that the overwhelming majority of people still have the dream and still see the importance of judging someone’s character over skin color.
Today is a day to celebrate a life and legacy – but it’s also a day to reaffirm and recommit to the dream – to be reminded of how it was and how it can be.
Here is an address Dr. King gave at a rally in Chicago on July 26, 1965. It’s an extended excerpt but the values and sentiments are as strong and relevant today as they were 53 years ago.