Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. To live in a country where all men were treated as equals. A country where his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. “I have a dream”, he said, to over 200,000 people on the mall in Washington DC in 1963.
Dreams Into Reality
America has come a long way since 1963. I like to think that Dr. King would be excited and proud of how much progress we’ve made. How African-Americans have prospered since those early days of the Civil Rights Movement. How our government, in time, came to protect the rights of all Americans.
Yes, we have a lot of work still to do. The Black Lives Matter movement is evidence of that. There are places in America where fear breeds hatred and discrimination, and black men are still not safe. Places where all men are not created equal.
But we do have cause to celebrate. Because there has been great progress. So much so, that we elected an African-American man to two terms as our nation’s president.
Now we’re coming up on a long weekend. A national holiday in honor of Dr. King. A holiday that came about because of the sacrifice of a man who fought tirelessly to fight injustice.
A man named Stevie Wonder.
That’s right. If it weren’t for Stevie Wonder we may not be celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday. For 18 years after King’s death, the white establishment fought all efforts to create a national holiday to honor him.
Senator Jesse Helms led the opposition, claiming King was not important enough, that he was a Marxist and associated with Communists. Helms thought King was not worthy of honor because he opposed the Vietnam war.
So in 1980, Stevie Wonder released the record “Happy Birthday” with lyrics that called out the opposition.
I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
It galvanized public support and the following year Stevie hosted the Rally for Peace press conference. He helped collect over 6 million signatures on a petition to Congress, the largest petition in favor of any issue in U.S. history.
Congress passed the holiday into law with 90 Congressmen still voting against. It took effect in 1986, yet it wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states made it official, thanks to South Carolina, the final holdout.
37 years after King died, we finally got a national holiday in his honor. All due to the passion and perseverance of Stevie Wonder.
I Have A Dream
I have a dream too. That we will all continue Dr. King’s work. That we will be vigilant in our defense of the rights of all Americans. That in spite of whatever may come with this new administration, we will all stick together and continue the fight for equality, decency, and hope.
Because hope is what drives progress. And Dr. King delivered hope. In the most glorious and inspiring piece of oratory the world has ever heard.
And I hope that we Americans will work together and make our country exactly what Dr. King dreamt we could.