Last month, Beverly Diehl issued a call on her blog to participate in her MLK Blogfest, and I jumped at the chance to be a part of something so meaningful.
Growing up in predominantly white southern Iowa, I didn’t have many experiences with racism. Everything I knew about the subject came from the history books, television, and movies. I knew Martin Luther King was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement, and that was about it.
Then, the summer before my junior year of high school, our music department took a trip to Washington, D.C. By bus, mind you. From Iowa. One of the buses broke down on the way, and the trip was talked about for years as being a miserable but sometimes fun experience. At sixteen, I didn’t grasp the importance of lying the wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier during the changing of the guard, or of being in the East Room of the White House where both Lincoln and Kennedy’s bodies were laid out. Seeing Lincoln’s bloody pillow in the house across the street from Ford Theater was chilling, but I was more concerned with boys and how I looked.
But one thing about that trip sticks out in my mind: the first time I heard King’s legendary “I Have A Dream” speech. To be honest, I don’t remember where exactly we were–I think it was somewhere around the Lincoln monument–but I remember being in a media room, the lights darkened, and sitting with my best friend and her mother. And the video played.
I’d read the speech before, learned about its importance. But I’d never heard King speak. That day, watching the black and white video of a courageous man in the prime of his life as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln monument, a perfect backdrop, I was moved to tears. It was the first and only time a speech ever made me cry. It was more than just the passionate tone of King’s voice, the cadence of the words, and the reaction of the crowd.
It was the first time I truly understood the plight of African American’s during the Civil Rights Movement. A hundred years after Lincoln freed them from the terrible practice of slavery, they still languished, fighting for equality. Finally, I understood–as well as I could–the cruelties they faced.
I often wonder if today’s generations truly grasp the sacrifices of King and the other brave men and women who marched on Washington. Would they have the courage to stand up for their beliefs, for their personal rights? Even though racism is still prevelant in this country, do the younger generations understand the humiliation of not being allowed in a restaurant because of skin color? Of having to move seats because of skin color? With all the priveleges we have today, can any of us really understand?
Today, nearly forty-four years after his tragic death, I wonder if King would consider his dream fulfilled. What would he think of the world as it is today? Despite equal opportunities and an African-American president, are the minorities truly free at last? Will we ever live in a world where people aren’t judged by skin, religion, or ethnic background?
What does today mean to you? Do you remember the first time you heard the “I Have a Dream” speech?