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FIRST-PERSON: King’s immortal legacy

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Forty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave what now stands as the world’s most famous speech.

“I Have A Dream” immortalized King’s hope of a thorough intersection of his common hopes that America through moral uprightness and civic responsibility would live up to “its full potential” and free its black citizens to live within the soft lines of freedom, rather than within the hard margins of the realities of social and economic oppression.

King became the embodiment of his own hopes with nonviolent direct action and personal appeals to the closed power structures of America. Thus he lived a unique and exemplary life of personal self-sacrifice, rendering service to people everywhere by promoting equality and social justice for all.

Now, 40 years later, a plethora of social and economic issues still divide America. In regard to race, America has come a long way with still a great distance to go. But class distinctions and differing spiritual values create their own schism in the nation, raising the often-asked question: “In what way did King’s calls for desegregation, equality and unity make a lasting impact on American society?”

As Americans pause to reflect upon the 40-year anniversary of the I Have A Dream speech, let them also reflect upon the poignancy and meaning — the significance — of several lines of the “Dream,” “… we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s Children — black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants — will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty we are free at last.'”

King’s I Have A Dream message pricked cleanly like a weaver’s beam at the vital threads in the fabric of American democracy. The success of desegregation is still in an open laboratory of hope — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equally” — and after being assured that she could be, America expresses somewhat more comfort with her diversity.

Subsequent to Martin Luther King’s vision of toppled thrones of injustice, there is greater hope than ever before that justice — “equal protection under the law” — remains truly blind as she walks the halls of equality.

The immortal legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King is dynamic — “and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” — because the Dream has not and will not die because Americans are valiant dream catchers.
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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  • Terriel Byrd