Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Opinion

January 15, 2012

Not just who we are, but who we aspire to be

JACKSONVILLE — Rarely in our country's history have non-elected officials had a profound effect on public policy. While rare, it does happen from time to time.

Many have pointed to Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as a rallying point for the anti-slavery movement in the mid-1800s. Others might point to the observations and witticism of political humorist Will Rogers or those like him. Still others point to the women's suffragist movement.

But it can be argued that one speech by a non-political and non-public official — Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" — has had the greatest impact on the cultural, political and emotional landscape of the country.

To be sure, the body of work by King helped change the laws, and in many cases, the attitude of the country as a whole about racial justice in the country.

In a sense, though, that one speech clarified what this country should aspire to be.

Our country's history is marked by more than who we are. It is marked by our aspiration to continue to improve and to continue to examine ourselves and our values.

And then there are our defining moments.

On Aug. 28 1963, King stood in front of thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

His speech that day was a call for racial justice in the United States. In part, King said:

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

"I have a dream today. ...

"I have a dream that one day ...  little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

"I have a dream today. ...

“And  ... when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the only U.S. holiday dedicated to an American citizen. Other holidays honor American workers, veterans, presidents, our country's discovery by Europeans, our independence and our faith and hope.

It is fitting that we honor King's life, not just for his work to obtain equality for African-Americans, but for what the civil rights movement spawned — an examination of our views elsewhere, such as workplace rights, women's right or our treatment of our nation's handicapped citizens.

In that sense, Monday's holiday should be a time to not only look at where we have been, but to re-examine what we aspire to be.

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