This year will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., to an audience of more than 200,000 people, calling for equal rights for all ethnic groups.
Forty-five years ago, King was assassinated while standing on a motel balcony in Memphis for leading a movement that convinced Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other civil rights legislation.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary that both houses of Congress passed a bill to establish today as a holiday to celebrate King’s legacy. President Ronald Reagan signed it into law Nov. 2, 1983, and it was first celebrated in 1986.
Half a century after the march on Washington, King’s message still echoes.
Today, it would be hard for a message of that caliber to reach as many ears as King’s speeches did, said UNT history professor Todd Moye.
“Today, we are more fragmented than we were back then,” Moye said. “There were only three TV networks, and it was easier to grab the public’s attention and focus on an issue.
“We just have way too many outlets grabbing our attention these days,” he said.
It wasn’t easy for King and other leaders of the civil rights movement to do what they needed to do, but the sources of that time period were just enough to make their messages live for decades, said Lori Johnson, a UNT history alumna.
“King was born at the right time that he was needed,” Johnson said.
Because of the leadership of King and other civil rights leaders in the ’60s, there have been many improvements regarding race relations, civil rights and justice, Johnson said.
“I think we should thank all civil rights leaders today because King didn’t do it all alone, but he is probably the best symbol to represent the movements.”
Today, President Barack Obama, America’s first black president, will deliver his second inaugural address, looking across the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his own speech nearly 50 years ago.
“Dr. King would’ve definitely been proud of Obama and of the diversity in politics today,” Moye said. “There’s still work to be done, but it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the next 50 years.
King was viewed as a prophet by many and a clue to what’s next may lay in his speeches, Moye said.
“King was anti-war and violence and he wouldn’t approve of our use of drones and war,” he said. “He would be against America’s gun fetish and violence in Hollywood movies. He would be especially hard on Obama to curve violence.”
Obama issued a statement last week on the White House’s website giving a proclamation honoring King and his work.
“Today, we celebrate a man whose clarion call stirred our Nation to bridge our differences, and whose legacy still drives us to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice,” Obama said on the website.
“Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, King mobilized multitudes of men and women to take on a struggle for justice and equality and for their courage and sacrifices, they earned our country’s everlasting gratitude,” he added.
Obama said he also realizes that even though progress has been made, Americans have more work to do if King’s dream is ever to become a reality.
“Too many young people still grow up in forgotten neighborhoods with persistent violence, underfunded schools and inadequate health care, holding little hope and few prospects for the future,” Obama said. “Today, Dr. King’s struggle reminds us that while change can sometimes seem impossible, if we maintain our faith in ourselves and in the possibilities of this Nation, there is no challenge we cannot surmount.”
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .