“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation”. These were the opening words of what I think is a masterpiece of modern rhetoric. These words were spoken 48 years ago by Martin Luther King in his I have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
King and the vast assembly African Americans had come the nation’s capital to cash a check, a check that would give “us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice”. But in his oratory, replete with powerful imagery and delivered with unsurpassed oratory, “the check had come back marked insufficient funds”. But King was not deterred. And he proclaimed, “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation”.
King had also come to the nation’s capital to remind America of the “fierce urgency of now”.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was to be dedicated on the National Mall on Sunday. But thanks to hurricane Irene, the ceremony was postponed.
But just like his life and what he stood for, the memory of King still draws fierce controversy.
Commenting on the King Memorial on the National Mall in the New York Times, Cornel West, philosopher and professor at Princeton noted that the “events constituted major milestones in the turbulent history of race and democracy.”
According to Andrew Young, one of King’s loyal lieutenants, former Mayor of Atlanta and former US Ambassador to the United Nations, “as America’s first black president, Barack Obama is doing the legacy of Martin Luther King proud. Cornel West disagrees. Cornel believes that “the age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy”.
Andrew Young believes “King would be most proud of the statue’s sheer size. King spent all his life as 5’ 7’’ so his ego would make him admire it”. That is vintage witty Andrew Young. But Cornel West thinks, “King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice.”
Cornel West reminds us that King’s dream of a more democratic America had become, in his words, “a nightmare,” owing to the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism.”
According to Andrew Young, “We know you are enslaved when you are in a democracy without the right to vote but when you are in a free enterprise system, in capitalism, without equal access to capital, we still have problems. Equal access to capital means equal access also to education and employment opportunity, so we still have a long way to go on Martin Luther King’s dream.”
But here is what King would say today, just like he did 48 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial “ I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
And against all odds and tribulations, the dream must live on.