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?
“Will we ever live in a world where people aren’t judged by skin, religion, or ethnic background?” Yes, I believe we are on our way to that, Stacy. But it takes constant vigilance by each of us, not to others actions necessarily, but to our own.
Beautifully written tribute to a great human being, and to your own dawning awareness as a girl. Just lovely.
Cynthia, I believe we’re on the way, too. I also think that gay rights is the last civil rights frontier, and that it will be a long haul before they see true equality.
Thanks so much for your kind words about the post. Glad you enjoyed it.
Sonia G Medeiros
Such a brilliant, amazing speech and a brilliant, amazing man. I don’t know if King would feel that his dream has been fulfilled. There’s still so much more that needs to be done. And some of the stuff that’s been done in the name of equality has fractured our society further. But I do think we keep trying, however many mistakes we make.
I agree, on all accounts. So much needs to be done, and not just for African Americans, but other minorities, including woman. Thanks so much for commenting!
I don’t want to assume what’s in anyone else’s mind, but I think that *some* African-Americans do not fully realize how many white(r) people were deeply moved and changed by Dr. King’s eloquence, during the time he led marches, to this day, to a then-teenage white girl from Iowa. 🙂 As he mentions in this speech, as one can see in a pan of the crowd, the freedom of white people is interwined with that of blacks. We cannot have freedom as a people unless ALL are free; men, women, of all colors and abilities.
Thank you for joining in, and sharing such a moving post.
Beverly, I would agree with you. Dr. King had an effect on many white people, and there were many who marched and some who even lost their lives in the name of racial equality (the Mississippi Burning case, for one).
You’re welcome, and thanks for including me. Glad you liked the post.
Karen Wojcik Berner
Dr. King’s speech still brings a tear to my eye. It is an amazing speech, as well as an amazing piece of writing.
Me, too. I listened to it today with the same emotion I had the first time I heard it. Thanks so much.
I think MLK starting us on a good road, but one that still needs work – and may always as long as people hand down old thinking. And this isnt just a war to win for discrimination over race but the battle over so many things – religion, land. As long as these battles are kept alive, so will suffering by the undeserving.
That’s such a good point – people do hand down old thinking. It’s never completely washed away, especially with religion and gay rights. It’s amazing how much negative thinking there still is surrounding those.
Thanks for stopping by!
I was moved by Dr. King’s speeches too. My high school days were during segregation and before most of his speeches. Those speeches have touched all of us in one way or another, and thankfully his dream is still alive in most of our hearts today. What a truly wise man he was!
Wow, thanks so much for commenting. I can’t imagine living in a segregated world. I’m happy to hear his dream had a good effect on you, and thanks again for sharing the memory with us.
I do not recall when I first heard it, but I remember when I read it. He was a beautiful writer. I wish I could say his writing influenced me, but I don’t know for sure. I just know his words connected in me. I am Latin and I have witnessed unpleasantness by others, even other Latins to their own family and ethnic brothers and sisters, and to be honest, I never understand the why of it. I hope we (the global we) find our way. Wonderful post, Stacy, thanks for sharing.
He was a beautiful writer. I’ve always been amazed he wrote that himself. I think my favorite thing about the speech is that in the meat of it, during the “I have a dream,” he’s either speaking from memory or from the moment. Either way made it more poignant.
I do know Latins get a rough deal, too. That is one ethnic group Iowa has a fair amount of, and I’ve witnessed it more than once.
Thanks so much, and thank you for commenting.
Now this one is truly beautiful too. I think Dr. King might be a little annoyed by some things going on today, but I think he was a very smart man and would be filled with awe at even such innocuous things as this blog fest right here. Thanks for sharing this.
Oh, thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I agree, Dr. King would see the many positives of the world we live in despite the work yet to be done. You’re very welcome, and thank you for commenting.
I had tears brimming when I first watched the video, too. I imagine he would be proud of how things have changed, but would also still keep pushing for Embracing Diversity. Taking Fear, Injustice & Frustration and turning them into Love was amazing.
I think that’s what I love most about Dr. King – he didn’t just focus on race, or the difference between whites and blacks at the time. He talked about all races living in peace and acceptance. Like you, I think he would be pushing forward even today. Thanks for your comment.
Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech is perhaps one of the most powerful and touching speeches in history. Hearing it always stirs me. I do not think we’ve fulfilled Dr. King’s dream yet. We still have a long way to go but we have made much progress.
Thank you for sharing this post. What a wonderful tribute to Dr. King.
I agree. It’s one of the best, if not the best, I’ve ever heard. And no, I don’t believe we have. There are still more equal rights to be given, in all facets of society. You’re very welcome, thank you for the kind words:)
I always get a lump in my throat when I hear that speech. I loved teaching it in my writing classes. As for your question about if the younger generation is no longer aware of the sacrifices made, I think that’s true on many levels in American culture. We’re not big on looking back. I think my daughter’s generation doesn’t think much about the struggle her mother’s generation went through to give her so many opportunities as a woman. I’m happy to be part of this MLK blogfest this year.
Dr. King was an excellent speaker, and his words are as true today as they were forty years ago. To answer your question, I don’t know. We’ve come a long way, baby, but not all the way. Make sense?
My favorite quote by Dr. King: Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
He was an insightful guy. Thanks for this well-written post, Stacy. Good job.
Hi, Stacy! ~
That bus trip to Washington D.C. sounds like one you’ll always remember! Profound, right?
Thank you for sharing your fond remembrances of Martin Luther King!
The trip as a whole was profound, as was the experience touring the city. The bus ride? Not so much, lol.
Thank so much!
Stacy S. Jensen (@StacySJensen)
I’m behind in getting to all the blogfest posts, but knew I would be disappointed. A lovely tribute and remembrance of that trip. I believe I first heard the speech in a Georgia history class. Seems like it was in class. It was very powerful. Monday night, my family listened to his last speech. Very moving.
Hi there, thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the tribute – it was one of the few moments of that trip that will always stick in my mind. Very cool your family listened to his speech on Monday.