I Have a Dream

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech.  I am re-posting this blog from earlier in the month because it is important today for every person to look back to that event and assess their own response to the issues that are still present today.  The battle of Martin Luther King, John Lewis and many others is still not won.

A year ago or so, my cousin Dan (a cousin on my father’s side of the family) who lives in Florida paid a visit.  I mention my father’s side because that fact meant that I had very little connection with him; my mother was so devastated by my Chaplain father’s death in WWII that I was given little access to his remaining family.

But Dan and I have an everlasting connection.  He and his twin brother Jim were heavily involved in the civil rights movement in Florida.  In fact, Dan brought with him on his visit a recently-produced DVD that details their story of demonstration and arrests while they were students at the University of Florida.  On this particular visit, he also gave me a copy of a letter that I don’t remember receiving – a thank you note for supporting their participation in those demonstrations in the early 60’s .  What he told me on this visit was astonishing:  evidently I was the only family member who responded to a request for financial assistance;  he never forgot that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the Ci...

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the Civil Rights March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning I learned that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech.”  Hearing this reminder this morning brought back a flood of memories from that era, including Jim and Dan’s involvement.  When I figured out that I was in my late teens and early 20’s when the civil rights memories were made, I was amazed.  I was horrified by racism and supported financially the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, and other appeals – including, evidently my cousins’.   Since I had no job at that time, I don’t know where this money came from, but my heart was totally into this movement.

I remember with astonishing clarity the  “I have a dream speech.”  I was in tears in front of my television, moved by the HUGE integrated crowd, the emotions of the speakers and musicians, and most importantly THE SPEECH.  I remember exactly when Martin Luther King moved into the biblically-influenced section of this speech, prompted by Mahalia Jackson’s shout from behind him, “Preach it, Martin!”  Since I’m a wordsmith I was struck then and still am with the beauty of that spontaneous outpouring.  Later I learned how steeped  MLK’s speeches  were in the words of the Bible, the sermons of other black preachers and writers, the call and response worship of black churches.  That knowledge just  made his speaking and writing even more thrilling to me. I still cry every time I read and hear the speech.

In this stage of life, I have a different connection with civil rights.  I live the African American experience with my husband every day (albeit though through the eyes of white privilege).  And I support with my finances and my heart the lives of seven children from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds who live in Africa, South America, and Asia through Compassion International.

But I still have my tangential  understanding through my cousins of what it meant to truly follow a radical Jesus in the 60’s.  Dan is still a civil rights activist in Florida.  But Jim, who had been the student body president at the University of Florida and a senior looking forward to graduation during the time I’m describing, was stripped of his presidency and expelled from the university for his support of the civil rights movement.  He fell  into a deep depression and committed suicide in his early 20’s – another casualty of a movement which should never have been necessary in the first place.

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3 Responses to I Have a Dream

  1. tmwest54 says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Karen. What a tragic end to your cousin’s courageous participation in the movement. It’s heartening to think about how far this country has come in the last 50 years as President Obama stands in the same place Martin Luther King jr did 50 years ago today. And yet it is also terribly disheartening to realize how entrenched racism continues to be in our society, both individually and systemically. Come Lord Jesus – and until that glad day, may He empower us to do His work, so that His kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.

  2. Thanks Travis! I wonder how people who don’t live in the Kingdom keep their hope in the reality of “entrenched racism” in their families, next door, in their workplace, in their political parties and across the world.

  3. A few days ago, Deb shared this memory of the March on Washington. She gave me permission to add it to the blog”

    “In the Summer of 1966 I was an exchange student in Sweden. There were Civil Rights demonstrations in Detroit that turned violent and my host family bought a large circulation newspaper that covered the story. Realizing I was from Michigan and Detroit was in Michigan they were highly concerned that my family was safe and unharmed. (My recollection is that they wanted me to send a telegram to my home family.) There were many late night conversations concerning why the demonstrations were happening in the USA. As a 16 year old I was as confused and worried as they were. Such a turbulent era in our history!”

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