Editorial: The life of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream

  • President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris watch as Martin Luther King III lays a wreath at the tomb of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and his wife Coretta Scott King on Tuesday.

    President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris watch as Martin Luther King III lays a wreath at the tomb of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and his wife Coretta Scott King on Tuesday. Associated Press Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 1/17/2022 8:34 PM

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in his "I Have a Dream" speech 59 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed guarded optimism about the future of racial justice in America.

"Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream," he said. "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: 'We hold these truths of be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

 

Two months ago, at a remembrance dinner in Schaumburg to honor King's life and work, the Rev. Clyde Brooks of the Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations struck a bleaker tone.

"The dream of Dr. King is dead," the Arlington Heights civil rights leader said.

"A dream," Brooks said, "is hope, but we have reached a point in this nation where it's a nightmare."

These are particularly discordant times, and Brooks has been at his noble work for a life's long journey. We honor his frustration and heed his sense of urgency.

But we respectfully disagree with his pessimism.

As King counseled, "Let us not wallow in the valley of despair."

These are difficult times that remind us there is more work to be done -- and that some past progress is threatened.

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But let us still revere the profound advance of a generation.

Notably, most of the examples King used in his speech to define equality have been achieved -- equal access to lodging, expanded racial mobility, access to the ballot box, an end to segregation.

And the widespread public embrace of the ideal is dramatically more universal today than in King's time. Most Americans -- in their consciences, at least -- agree with the creed that "all men are created equal." Not so when King spoke the words.

Subconsciences, of course, are trickier and unfortunately more devilish things. Much attention needs to be paid yet to those.

And a philosophy toward equal opportunity has yet to convert to equity in life's circumstances.

Huge economic gaps still exist. The vicious cycle of poverty has a strong racial component. Several states are reviving efforts to disenfranchise Black voters. Life expectancy varies widely between the races. Criminal justice reform is urgently needed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And of course, police reform too.

These all are significant problems that must be addressed by those of goodwill.

In some cases, these matters can be addressed simply. But in many, the solutions are complex. They require commitment, but also a national conversation that will not be productive unless it is real and that will not be real unless it is open to disagreement.

All of us must be a part of that conversation. It cannot start unless all of us agree with King that "we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

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