Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke before 250,00 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. This speech was what we call the “I Have A Dream” speech. He was speaking during a time at once alien and yet not unfamiliar. He had become an important leader in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Like so many movements, even today, there was a tension between peaceful protest and fighting back with the same violence used by many of the opponents of civil rights and justice.

Rev. King began his speech reminding us that the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution guaranteed rights that were being denied to Black people saying, “the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination...Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

He went on to articulate a non-violent approach: “There is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

He went on to say: “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”

Reverend King continued: “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 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.'"

He continued with several more of his dreams that he thought were important to the struggle of his time. Reading them, I realized that it wasn’t the dreams themselves that were important so much as the act of visualizing the future we want. Today, we are in danger once again of falling victim to the violence and negativity of extremists and our dreams of “a more perfect union” are being drowned out. Indeed, this is a time when tyrants emerge who will try replace our dreams with their twisted visions.

To quote Michelle Obama's tweet from Jan. 7: “The work of putting America back together, of truly repairing what is broken, isn’t the work of any individual politician or political party. It’s up to each of us to do our part. To reach out. To listen. And to hold tight to the truth and values that have always led this country forward. It will be an uncomfortable, sometimes painful process. But if we enter into it with an honest and unwavering love of our country, then maybe we can finally start to heal.”

As we contemplate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., let us put forth our positive dreams for Laconia, for New Hampshire, and the U.S. Let us imagine “our better angels.” Bring your ideas and dreams for a better Laconia to the Zoom forum celebrating Rev. King Sunday, Jan. 17, at 3 p.m. A Zoom link can be found at LaconiaNH.gov.

This forum is an annual event of the Laconia Human Relations Committee to celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Laconia Daily Sun will be sponsoring their second Community Conversation on Wednesday, Jan. 205-6:30 p.m. on Zoom. The topic will be on tolerance.

Resources:

National Civil Rights Museum: civilrightsmuseum.org

Equal Justice Initiative - Fighting For Racial Justice: EJI.org

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

Seacoast African American Cultural Center: saacc-nh.org

Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire: blackheritagetrailnh.org

National Museum of African American History and Culture: nmaahc.si.edu

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