It didn’t come overnight.
Its transparency wasn’t made clear over the course of a single day.
The long-celebrated Civil Rights Movement in this country was gradual. It was volatile. Too often it was violent. And to this day it has left deep scars on the hearts, in the memories and upon the moral conscience of many, especially those Americans who lived through — and who survived — this bitter period of national uprising.
Yet, it was necessary. It was justified. And it gave new direction to the moral compass of a country that dared to point accusatory fingers at grave injustices in other corners of our globe, while ignoring such travesties in our own.
Although its course was led by multiple visionaries — from John Lewis to Roy Wilkins to Malcolm X, and whose methods ranged from peaceful protests to the advocacy of street violence using whatever means necessary — Civil Rights took its most familiar face on Aug. 28, 1963.
On this day, some 250,000 Americans — three-fourths black, one-fourth white — joined hands and hearts in the historic “March on Washington” to seek a new freedom, one that guaranteed racial equality, good jobs, fair pay, voting rights and the elimination of racial segregation in public schools.
Although many courageous and forceful words of action were delivered on this day to the throngs of humanity lined along the reflection pool fronting the Lincoln Memorial, none came so eloquently, and none are as remembered, as those offered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Truly, he was a man of vision. But such insight draws mixed reviews, and even more so in 1963.
Thousands loved him.
Thousands more hated him.
Too often these emotions were bordered along lines of race. Black America saw him as a liberator, one who would lead the Negro to a promised land of opportunity. White America perceived him as a threat, a Civil Rights troublemaker wrapped in nice clothes and fancy words whose accusations of racial disparity were bad for the people and even worse for the country.
It was a day when the color of a man’s, and a woman’s, skin dictated the level of respect they were due and the depth of credibility they were given.
It justified — in spite of its unjust reasonings — measures of pay, types of jobs, public mistreatment and inhumane segregation, even among the children.
Such feelings did not end on Aug. 28, 1963. But in time, they softened. Government leaders awoke to these realities. People stood together — black and white — to demand change. And thankfully, change came.
Sadly, in some pockets of America such change has come at a snail’s crawl.
But for the most part, hearts have warmed. Minds have opened. Tolerance has grown. Appreciation for difference has been embraced by an American people, most of whom now see diversity as a strength and not a great divider.
Make no mistake. Fifty years later, times are not perfect. America still has some growing up to do. Americans continue to reach for a level of maturity in how they accept, and how they treat, others.
But collectively, and racially, America is improving.
And our recovery can be traced to a man with vision. Thanks to the “March on Washington,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became the accepted face of Civil Rights and his prophetic “I Have A Dream” address on this day 50 years ago stirred America’s conscience and mobilized her ranks.
Our words in print cannot match the spirit of this humanitarian for all people. So we will not try. Instead, we will yield to the words of the man himself. His cry for action gave a voice to all, as seen in this excerpt:
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, 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.
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
“I have a dream that my four 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.
“I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
“I have a dream today.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
“This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
Dr. King’s words lit a fire, one whose dream of a better day for all has reaped great gains over time.
Any who believe matters of race in America today are not better see only the trees; they don’t see the forest.
But, any who believe racism in America today is now a dead chapter from our nation’s past are merely fooling themselves and each other.
Racism is not dead, but matters of race are improving.
Rising from the unfathomable depths of hatred is a slow climb. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t occur in a day.
But it happens. Sometimes it takes 50 years. Sometimes it takes longer.
Yet, that which is worth doing is worth taking the time needed to see it through.
It isn’t a race. It isn’t a Finish Line. It is a Promised Land, one whose quest over the years has been fueled by many.
Such destination is not a place nor a time nor a date. It is a mindset, one whose roots were planted by one man’s dream.
We pray it will continue to grow.
And we believe it will, but only by the will of the people.