Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963, was a masterpiece of metaphor, prophecy and exhortation.
Delivered from the Lincoln Memorial to a huge crowd gathered at the Capitol Mall on Aug. 28, 1963, the speech called on the United States to give full citizenship to black Americans.
The black and white video of the speech, the culmination of the "March on Washington," is from another world.
In the sweltering heat, many of the men wear coats and ties, and the women formal dresses. Many had come from the violent struggle for civil rights in the American South. No public leader today can match King's eloquence.
King's speech and the march pushed President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to increase federal protection of civil rights activists. Under President Lyndon B. Johnson, the United States made a step toward cashing the promissory note of black equality cited by King in one of his brilliant metaphors.
King modulates his resonant voice like a musical instrument, its prophetic biblical cadences ringing with poetic grandeur. He indicts American society for the injustices still suffered by black citizens: segregation, police brutality, political and economic discrimination.
Yet, as his voice swells with outrage and impatience, he refuses to succumb to bitterness. He points out that the destinies of white and black Americans are intertwined, and that the denial of full freedom to blacks also suppresses whites.
Those of us who grew up during segregation knew the South's smothering oppressiveness. Because of King, the South is a much better place now, with much greater diversity, social freedom and economic opportunity.
In the 60 years since King's speech, the country has made significant progress fulfilling his dream of freedom and racial equality. Too much remains undone.
Saturday would have been his 94th birthday.
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