Photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., age 35, Nobel Peace Prize, 1964.
A Deferred Dream by Gary Tyson:
On a sweltering August 28th afternoon in 1963 MLK Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to declare to people of every race, creed and color about a dream he had. While many of us have heard this speech many times, and some can quote it word for word, very few folks have heard about Dr. King’s “Deferred Dream” he later spoke about.
Yes, Dr. King confessed, not long after giving the “I have Dream”speech, one of the most eloquent speeches in the history of mankind, that his dream started to turn into a nightmare. Dr. King stated his dream turned into a nightmare when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent black girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. He stated he saw his dream turn into a nightmare when he moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.
He stated that his dream turned into a nightmare when he watched his black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve their problems. He stated his dream turned into a nightmare as he watched the war in Vietnam escalate with extraordinarily high proportions of black men, relative to the rest of the population, dying on shores eight thousand miles away.
Martin went on to say that he was the victim of deferred dreams and blasted hopes. But, he stated, “You can’t give up in life.” He stated, “If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.” He closed out that speech on that cold December night in 1967 with these words.
“I still have a dream. A dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. A dream that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. A dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. A dream that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
[I] Still have a dream that in all the state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. A dream that one day war will come to an end, and men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. A dream that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. A dream that every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
He dreamed that the faith all of mankind will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. He stated, with that faith, mankind will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. He said, “It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.”
I believe today in the great United States of America, fifty years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, we are still experiencing a deferred dream. Even with our great gains, and the election and reelection of our first African American President, we are still living in the shadows of the dream that Dr. King envisioned. As matter of fact, in many cases our dreams have turned into nightmares.
When black males make up 12% of our population, but over 60% of our prison population, our dream has become a nightmare. When homicide is the leading cause of death for black men between the ages of 18-29, that’s a nightmare. When young black males on the asphalt streets of Chicago have a greater chance of being killed than on the battlefields in the Middle East, that is a dream that has turned into a nightmare. When 70% of our black families do not have fathers in the home, it’s time for us to wake up from the slumber of our sleep and shake off the fog of our peaceful dreams.
While dreaming is good, the truth is, when you dream, you are lying on your back with your eyes closed, and when you wake up, you are still lying in the same spot as when you went to sleep. That type of inaction is not going to make a deferred dream become a reality. A deferred dream is the hardest dream to grasp due to its darting moving target. The best way to fully achieve a deferred dream is to keep your eyes wide open.
Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., from the Nobel Prize website:
Martin Luther King, Jr., (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) was born Michael Luther King, Jr., but later had his name changed to Martin. His grandfather began the family's long tenure as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, serving from 1914 to 1931; his father has served from then until the present, and from 1960 until his death Martin Luther acted as co-pastor. Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College, a distinguished Negro* institution of Atlanta from which both his father and grandfather had graduated. After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. in 1951. With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955. In Boston he met and married Coretta Scott, a young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments. Two sons and two daughters were born into the family
In 1954, Martin Luther King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, King was, by this time, a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. He was ready, then, early in December, 1955, to accept the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott described by Gunnar Jahn in his presentation speech in honor of the laureate. The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, Negroes and whites rode the buses as equals. During these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to personal abuse, but at the same time he emerged as a Negro leader of the first rank.
In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles. In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, "l Have a Dream", he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.
At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.
On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.