By Vince Gullo III | Staff Columnist
There are certain moments in history when one can feel that they are in the presence of something great. The feeling cannot be explained or quantified, but when someone is in the moment of importance, they know it. That is how over 250,000 individuals felt on Aug. 28 when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech at the March on Washington, an event organized by various minority rights groups looking to push for an end in racial discrimination. The march included speeches by multiple civil rights leaders and culminated with Dr. King’s speech.
King’s speech, soon labeled the “I Have a Dream” speech, left an impact on all those that heard and saw it. Beginning with references to the Bible and Constitution, King climaxes his speech with the profound lines:
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, 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 … I have a dream that my four 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.”
King appeals to the core of American values. The discrimination experienced by African Americans is obvious to all rationally-minded people, but when the reality of American society is compared to its constitutionally ideal, the difference is striking. We’ve developed into an unnecessarily tribal nation — one that considers those who have a different skin color somehow less-American than we are, even though the vast majority of them have been in this country long before we have. The idea that some citizens are somehow lesser than others is fundamentally against what the Founding Fathers had intended when writing our country’s constitution. Considering fellow citizens as inferior and then creating restrictive legislation to justify those beliefs (such as the Jim Crow laws) would be the opposite of the American Ideal that so many people hypocritically push.
Between slavery, legal discrimination, unfair legal systems and countless other atrocities, the fact that the African American community has gone through the generational horrors that it has and still remains gracious enough to fight their fight through peaceful protest, is nothing short of incredible. As 250,000 supporters of the Civil Rights movement gathered together at the capital, one couldn’t help but feel riveted watching from afar.
The march, which was supported by the Kennedy Administration, will hopefully increase momentum for President Kennedy’s proposed Civil Rights Act, which would prohibit any discrimination based on race, and eventually lead to a fully integrated society. Although political action might be an eventual goal of the participants, the hope that was felt though the solidarity shared between the marchers, speakers and everyone else involved is what made the march a victory that transcended what any piece of legislation could do. No matter the odds, the people showed that they will not go down without a fight.
Even as a lowly, white student in Pittsburgh, there is still something to take from the march, and more specifically Dr. King’s speech. Whenever there is injustice, to you or to others, love is always the answer. There is a world where these injustices no longer exist, and we can make it happen through enacting the words of King in our everyday lives.
As writer James Baldwin so graciously said about King’s speech: “We stood on a height, and could see our inheritance; perhaps we could make the kingdom real.” The “kingdom” can be achieved by living lives of acceptance, understanding, and love as opposed to ones of ignorance and hate.