Sunday, January 16, 2000

The dream came true

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One August day in 1963, an American prophet stood on the steps of the Lincoln Monument and delivered a sermon that spoke to the heart and soul of a nation.

        The speech by Martin Luther King Jr. was called “I Have a Dream.” It is not Holy Scripture. But it has a few things in common.

        It is so rich with divine inspiration and direct appeals to God, it's amazing it has not been banned from classrooms by the ACLU.

        It is constantly quoted and misquoted by people who have never read it.

        It has been warped by false prophets and mined for cash. The Rev. King's descendants have tried to copyright his legacy, as if American history can be patented and sold.

        It has been analyzed to death by scholars who can measure the dimensions of a cubit but know nothing about the faith that inspires humans to build an Ark of hope in the middle of a raging storm.

        And it has been jealously monopolized by a priesthood of “true believers,” who presume to tell us what it means.

        Good news, brothers and sisters: America's civil rights victories belong to all of us, all the way back to Abraham. Lincoln, that is.

        If a lot of white folks mistakenly think King Day is a black holiday to worship political correctness, maybe it's because civil rights these days seems more about dividing than uniting us.

        What would The Rev. King think of a civil-rights televangelist like Jesse Jackson, who thinks “racial justice” means black students can brawl at football games without being suspended?

        How do affirmative action quotas fit his dream of a day when people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”?

        What would he say about Sharptons and race racketeers who defend corruption as a minority entitlement while they rob the poor?

        Or an NAACP that fights TV networks for the sour victory of crass sitcoms that demean more blacks along with whites?

        Violent, racist, crime-culture rap is not what The Rev. King had in mind when he spoke about “a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

        The Rev. King went to Washington that day in 1963 to cash a check “that will give us on demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

        He did not seek the freedom of riches and security from justice.

        The Rev. King also went to Washington that day to shout, “Let freedom ring” — no matter who it offended, no matter how the establishment was horrified and outraged.

        He dared to rattle the windows of smug complacency by demanding an end to segregation, bigotry and injustice.

        This is a legacy for all Americans: the courage to speak unpopular truths about painful topics. It is too scarce today.

        I'm not sure The Rev. King would recognize an America where people are afraid to discuss race, yet obsessed by it; a place where lives and careers are destroyed by the “racist” label; where the night-sticks and fire hoses are wielded not by redneck Southern sheriffs, but by our media and cultural elites, who decide what can be said and what is taboo.

        Imagine the chill in America's living rooms in 1963 when The Rev. King warned, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges” — years before riots scorched Detroit.

        Few remember what he said next:

        “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred . . . The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

        Those words have an almost scriptural texture — a power to speak across the gulf of time to each of us and all of us.

        If there's one thing we should leave behind as we move into the 2000s, let it be our festering obsession with race.

        Those who say we have not made progress, that America is still wracked by racism, are stuck in a nightmare, not Martin Luther King's dream.

        If The Rev. King could stand on the steps of the Lincoln monument and look out at America today, I think he'd tell us to wake up and look around: In many ways, his dream has come true.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, e-mail, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.

Martin Luther King Day events