I have a dream (45 years on, still unfulfilled)

Today is the 45th anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered to a crowd of more than 250,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

It is undoubtedly one of the finest speeches ever given, notable both for its message, narrative arc and rhetorical gems. Here are just a couple of highlights:

"In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds…"

"But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now…"

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…"

"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…"
 
"Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

The speech is pure poetry. The written word, however, is unequal to the task of reproducing the power of King's impassioned delivery. Watch the whole speech here on YouTube.

King's dream remains unfulfilled, yet tonight in Denver Barack Obama will formally accept the nomination of his party as candidate for the US Presidency. In doing so, he will become the first African-American to ever be so close to taking the presidency. Surely a sign of advances towards King's dream?

Forty-five years ago, King said '1963 is not an end but a beginning.' Given the racial and other inequalities in present-day America (Katrina anyone?), Obama's potential success in a general election later this year can still only be seen as marking 2008 as another step in the road not an end.

I have previously blogged some sceptical thoughts on the US presidential election, but it certainly provides good political entertainment. So, if you (like me) will be watching Barack Obama's nomination acceptance speech in Denver tonight, listen out for any echoes of the speech given today in 1963 by his hero.

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