On the 28th of August, 1963 (60 years ago today), civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr gave what would become one of the world’s most famous speeches, and did so on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C, before a crowd of some 250,000 people, as well as on camera.
Mr King held a mirror to the grim reality of 1960s America. Racism is still a problem today, but in the 60s, it was more overt in many ways. Segregation remained a massive problem. Black people in the USA were decidedly second-class citizens, and Mr King’s speech rounded upon the contradictory nature of a country championing freedom and independence, touching upon famous documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, and President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to drive home his points.
Mr King’s speech was largely well-received, though the FBI treated him and his movement as enemies to the USA, even going as far as to call Mr King ‘the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.’
Flash-forward 60 years, and there is still much work to be done. Racism is still embedded in society, and it would be highly pretentious of me to pretend it’s a uniquely American problem, because it’s still very-much a problem here in the UK too. Indeed, all over the world, people can face judgement and prejudice for the colour of their skin. One of the most terrible, high-profile examples of recent times is the case of George Floyd, who was denied due process and justice (yet some people don’t seem to believe he was a victim of racism).
We love to think that with the stroke of a pen, with the signing of a Bill, or an Act of Parliament, we can sweep away racism. It’s not nearly that simple, and it’s arrogant of us to believe we are so much better than now than we were then. Have things improved? In some ways, yes, but that doesn’t mean things are where they need to be. There is work to be done, so that injustices like that which befell George Floyd never happen again. We need to keep Mr King’s dream in our hearts.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” – Martin Luther King Jr.