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Dr. King's Dream Deferred?

by Dr. Henry C. Ficklin

Two months following the June 12, 1963 death of Medgar Evers, a civil rights worker, in Jackson Mississippi who was assassinated at his home after a march to gain voting rights, Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. delivered his now famous "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 to more than a hundred thousand marchers seeking among other things the right to vote.

It was for blacks in the South to gain the right to vote that Freedom Riders, young progressive thinking college students and others, came down to assist with voter registration and generally to prepare the African American community for task of voting. The resistance was fierce even to the point of killing some of these young dreamers for a better nation.

Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, was the final straw that changed the battle for voting rights in the South. A 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery was interrupted at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama by Alabama State Troopers who attacked the marchers and beat many of them bloody. This event was broadcasted around the world and caused President Lyndon b. Johnson to sign into law the 1965 Voting rights Act. Dr. King was present and witnessed this signature legislation of the Civil Rights movement become a reality. This was actually what the dream was all about - the right to vote. Without the right to vote, the imagines described in his famous "I have a dream" speech could have never been possible.

While the dream speech is an excellent display of superb oratory skill, Dr. King's speech on May 17, 1957 in Washington, D.C. had earlier outlined the reason for the civil rights movement and the goal sought - the right to vote. That speech was the "Give us the Ballot" speech, in which he used the phrase as a anaphora to drive his message home. He said that if blacks in the South had the ballot that they would transform the South into a better place for the world and for themselves. He pointed out that their living conditions would change for the better because they would elect Judges, Mayors, Sheriffs and other elected officials who would have a different view of humanity and work to make society better. Therefore, the signing of the Voting Rights Act was the reward of a long hard struggle for freedom. King's dream could now come true.

Forty years after Dr. King was slain in Memphis, Tennessee by an ambush of sniper fire, we saw a glimpse of the dream with the election of the first African American President. However, the power of voting by African Americans (the dream) has begun to slip since that historical election result. Now, we are once again left to wonder with Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes who asked in 1951, "What happens to a dream deferred?" Hughes suggested several answers to his question: Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore - and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over - like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? Only you have the correct answer. What is it?
To truly celebrate Dr. King's birthday and his dream, we have been asked to make it a day on rather than a day off. So let's plan now to make it a day on the job of making the dream a reality by registering all those we come into contact with who are eligible to vote. The application forms are plentiful and can be turned in the next day at the Board of Elections. You know them and many of them don't even have a reason for not voting. Let not defer this dream, because you have the power to change things for the better, if you would only vote. That was Dr. King's true dream. Please honor it.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.