Monday, January 18, 2010

The Dream vs. The Dream Deferrred

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I feel fortunate to have the day off to honor this great southern American, but not so long ago debate swirled over whether this should be declared a national holiday or not.

Everyone is familiar with Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The images of his integrated and equal America have been difficult to realize. Hundreds of years of racism and violence have marked the relationship between blacks and whites in the "New World," but to paraphrase the old Virginia Slims cigarette advertisements, "We've come a long way baby."

Back in the 1950s and 60s (especially in the mid 1960s with the rise of Black Power), it wasn't so clear whether we would get to where we are now in terms of race relations. Race riots in many of the largest American cities were seen on the nightly news and carried on newspaper headlines. Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, and then Dr. King's in 1968 made the muddy waters even less clear.

Years before Dr. King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington D.C., a poem was written. Its author was Langston Hughes (pictured above). Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902 and knew all too well the prevalent racism of his day. He lived to see a good deal of the Civil Rights movement before passing away in 1967. His short poem titled "A Dream Deferred" seems to hearken back to the Declaration of Independence and its promises that everyone has the right to enjoy "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;" the American Dream. But, what if that dream is denied? What will happen then? Well, I'll let him say it...he does it best....

A Dream Deferred
What happen to a dream deferred?
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 over--
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I think that Dr. King deserves to be honored for all the sacrifices he made and all the good will that he created, but his example of non-violent civil resistance went a long way toward making sure that the American Dream didn't explode into another type of war; one that might have looked much like the one that had been fought 100 years before. Indeed, we have come a long way from where we were only 50 short years ago, and granted we have much left to accomplish in race relations, but today, let's remember Dr. King and the good work he did to help make America better.

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