“And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
-Martin Luther King Jr. I Have a Dream
Frankly speaking, racism is an intricate problem for me to understand as a Chinese, since China is a nation-state with only Chinese people. So when I first read I Have a Dream in the middle school textbook, I was amazed at how can the concept of discrimination exist in the United States, the most powerful country in the world. Martin Luther King Jr.’s lecture really intrigued me into knowing about the racial problems in America.
Fortunately, I Have a Dream is an important text and my teacher asked us to do lots of researches on it. I was so intrigued in this topic that I can still remember many points I made on this speech.
I Have a Dream was an influential speech made by Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28th, 1963 in Washington D.C.. Martin Luther King Jr. was an leader of African American Civil Rights Movement who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. When he became a leader of the activists, numerous African Americans were uneducated as well as living under poverty. He was originally famous for leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was about an African American woman in Alabama was arrested for refusing to give seat to a white person. The Supreme Court announced that the segregation law in Alabama violated the Constitutional law and this symbolized the first victory of MLK Jr.’s movement. He was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis and his death is still a mystery today. In memory of MLK Jr., the United States stipulated that the third Monday of January was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
During 1963, African American studies was undergoing the third stage, which was “a period of legitimization and institutionalization”(Harris, p16). African Americans were still suffering from inequality and discrimination, although President Lincoln“ordered and declared that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, were, and henceforward shall be free”(Emancipation Proclamation), . As such, MLK Jr. stepped in and made this great speech to the world.
I Have a Dream is a satire instead of speech. In other words, fully understanding Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea requires meticulous analysis by combining historical factors hundreds of years before and situation of the United States during 20th century and we can gradually figure out how American government deceived African Americans. African Americans underwent horrible Triangle Trade from African and became slaves for white people hundreds of years before. I have learned something about the Triangle Trade in the middle school but I just think the middle passage was the only terrible thing, while many things happened that were beyond my imagination. They were treated as “commodities rather than human, family would be separated at the auction block and slaves could be punished or executed by slaveholders”(Professor LaShawnDa Pittman, personal communication, Oct 22th, 2015). Even though there were slaves in Chinese history as well, slaves in America depended on the skin color instead of other factors. The crime like this must be abolished I believe. Due to the different attitude toward the slavery between south and north, the American Civil war exploded in 1861 and the federal government won the war. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued Emancipation Proclamation which emancipated all the slaves in the United States. It was not over, however, there were still states in the south refused to admit slave’s status. Violent crimes on African Americans happened a lot. Slave Codes no longer existed but it was replaced by the Black Codes, which constrained the African Americans’ right strictly. “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds”.(King) Equality was hardly to be found in this nation, especially in the south. I was shocked by the event of Stand in the Schoolhouse Door which happened in Alabama, where the governor Wallace claimed his racism idea of refusing African American students to get into the college with white. The idea of racism was so ingrained that impeded the equality movement.
I Have a Dream is a declaration of war toward racism and it inspired African Americans to join in this war with no blood. Facing thousands of citizens of the United States, MLK Jr. objectively described the current situation of the racism to people with different skin color. He claimed that “in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force”.(King) He was not only on behalf of African Americans, but also all American citizens. MLK Jr. believed that the one of the most crucial factors to reach his goal was to gather people in an united front which represented justice instead of African Americans, and this made his dream succeed half at least.
I Have a Dream is a magnificent picture of democracy. It is not only his dream, but also a dream of all the people in the United States. As an increasing number of African Americans realized that their civil rights were violated, activists like MLK Jr. who advocated equality stepped out and protested against the government. They were great warriors who fought with racism which should be eliminated in this nation. They wished 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’; one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood; one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice; one day their children live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.(King) MLK Jr. has left this world for 47 years and this nation changed a lot in these decades. More African Americans play a crucial role in the society, even the president and the racial ideas are almost eradicated among new generation. This prosperous image of the United States is the best way to comfort Martin Luther King Jr.
Readers of I Have a Dream must from different countries must have been shocked by its special power. This power is not an impulsive force, but a pushing force which can make people think deeply. Currently, in addition to racism, there are still problems of sexism, religious discrimination, regional discrimination in the United States. Solving social problems requires all the people to contribute instead of relying on individuals. Martin Luther King Jr. sets an example for the public.
Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863; Presidential Proclamations, 1791-1991; Record
Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives.
Harris, Robert. “The Intellectual and Instructional Development of Africana Studies
King, Martin L., Jr. “I Have a Dream.” Speech. Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.
28 Aug. 1963. American Rhetoric. Web. 9 Aug. 2013