|A view of the large crowd that converged to listen to this|
historic speech of Martin Luther King at Lincoln Memorial, Washington
on 28th August 1963
Photo courtesy: http://thatplum.com
Today is the 50th anniversary of the legendary ‘I have a Dream’ speech of the African-American clergyman and civil rights mass leader Martin Luther King Jr., (1929 –1968) which was delivered on 28th August 1963 to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Dream speech appears to be a poetic exposition on the basic rights of all human being to be free and equal and has been the inspirational song for anybody who has ever fought for the end of racism and socio-political and economic inequality and has provided moral and motivating support to gender, dalit, minority, regional, cultural, economic rights and struggles for a free, equal and non-discriminatory society. The tone and diction of the speech has been invariably called 'melodious and melancholy'. Literally, when he says, "...the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition", the language seems to be under a lot of strain to maintain the necessary grace to convey the angst of a community living a life, as it were, on its toes.
I am re-producing the text of the speech, which has had some variations, but is now archived at www.archives.gov by the Government of USA. We need to go back and look closely and carefully at this marvellous piece which had the audacity to dream aloud. What is more important is that the speech ends with a vision for a society in which all have equal space and opportunity and dignity, and that is something the most instructive part which we need to look at :
“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to 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!"”
Photo Courtesy: http://schomburgcenter.tumblr.com
How similar in idea and thought and vision it appears to the famous lines of Aimé Césaire (1913–2008), Francophone poet, author and politician from Martinique, considered to be one of the founders of the négritude movement in Francophone literature. These lines are quoted by Edward W. Said (1935-2003), the pioneering post-colonial theorist, in his Culture and Imperlialism:
But the work of man is only just beginning
And it remains to man to conquer all
The violence entrenched in the recesses of his passion
And no race possesses the monopoly of beauty
Of intelligence, of force, and there
Is a place for all at the rendezvous of victory
No wonder such a vision, which is essentially disturbing for the majoritarian, reactionary, racist, capitalist and imperialist forces, proved too much of a threat leading to the assassination of Martin Luther in 1968. It was all the more ironical because of all the rights leaders in the post-Second World War, he laid unambiguous emphasis on bringing about change through a non-violent mass struggle. In fact, coming from those fighting for the rights of the marginalised, such a vision, though romantic --as all visions and struggles for an equal and just society are essentially romantic--, is certainly not condescending and patronizing, and hence genuinely humanistic and realistically romantic. While Martin Luther King Jr., who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, has been invariably compared with Mahatma Gandhi, also for his own confessions about Gandhian inspirations, I think that considering the unique marginalised position which he and his black community were and are still placed in, it is most appropriate to compare him to the role, contribution and struggles of Baba Saheb Ambedkar (1891-1956), whose struggles for a caste-less society in Indian context are quite akin to what Martin Luther was trying to do in American context. In fact, Ambedkar should take precedence, because he was a senior contemporary.
|Dr. B R Ambedkar|
When Martin Luther King Jr. says in this speech, "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", we can not but remember what Ambedkar said to the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference, 31st May 1936, Bombay, "Do not keep company with those who believe that the God is omnipresent, but treat men worse than animals. They are hypocrites. Do not keep contact with those who feed ants with sugar, but kill men by prohibiting them to drink water. Are you aware what effects their company has produced upon you? You have ceased to be respected. You have no status at all. To say that the Hindus alone do not pay you any respect is only a half-truth. Not only the Hindus, but the Muslims and the Christians too, consider you the lowliest of the lowly. In fact, the teachings of Islam and Christianity do not create the sense of high and low. Then why do the followers of these two religions treat you as low? Because the Hindus consider you as the lowest of the low, the Muslims and Christians also consider you likewise. They fear that if they treat you on par, the Hindus will treat them also as low. Thus we are not low in the eyes of the Hindus alone. We are the lowest in the whole of India, because of the treatment given [us] by the Hindus. If you have to get rid of this shameful condition, if you have to cleanse this filth and make use of this precious life, there is only one way--and that is to throw away the shackles of the Hindu religion and the Hindu society in which you are groaning. " (This Quotation courtesy: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/txt_ambedkar_salvation.html)
Today, standing at the same place from where Dr. King spoke, President Barack Obama of USA, will be giving a 50th Year Anniversary speech to commemorate the 'I have a Dream' speech of Dr. King. President Obama does have genuine claims to speak, not only as the President of USA, but as the first Black President of the USA--the path for which was paved by the struggles of Dr. King and his contemporaries. We do not know when in India we will see a genuine Dalit or Minority Community or Woman Prime Minister taking up the mantle as a fruition of the struggles of Dr. Ambedkar and those who have shared his vision.
In this context, a reading of Martin Luther King's vision of a society, which is still eluding us, may be the need of the hour, as it reminds of the struggles of all the marginalised in the contemporary world. --Kumar Vikram
TEXT OF THE SPEECH ‘I HAVE A DREAM’
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
|Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.|
In a sense we have 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. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. 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. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But 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.
|A poetic vision which is yet to have full poetic justice|
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
|Dr. King at the historic speech|
I say to you today, my friends, 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."
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 the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
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.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls 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 that I go back to the South with. 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.
|He was saying what we are getting concerned |
about now in the consumerist Indian society
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to 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 END OF THE SPEECH
You can also watch the video of this speech at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smEqnnklfYs#t=681