Stephanie Daniels, Features Editor
We all have heard the famous “I Have A Dream Speech”, a speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, in front of thousands proclaiming freedom for his community. It rang in the hearts of the people who he stood at the head of, the people of the black community. Up until that point in time, those brave individuals within that community were taking a stand against the institutionalized racism and prejudice that ran rampant within their lives and communities.
Dr. King’s speech wasn’t just a call to action, but also a call to realization. To realize the plight of black people in not only the deep south, but across the United States that faced the daily threat of death within their own communities. Lynchings and community terrorizing of households were a daily occurrence due to the growing resistance to change within the white community.
To make concrete the climate of the time in which Dr. King stood to make his address, we must look at the events transpiring during that time. Preceding his speech, a lot of change was happening in the black community, and as stated earlier, it was met with a lot of backlash and outrage. One example being Brown v. The Board of Education nearly a decade before the speech in May, 1954. During this case, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in schools proved against the 14th Amendment, reversing the “separate but equal” proposition in Plessy v. Ferguson previously enacted in 1896. Meaning, the black community had experienced the reality of separate by so much less for nearly 60 years. Imagine having less than proper spaces to hold school, let alone the supplies needed such as books and desks. Adding to that, children facing the daily threat of being victimized by the brutality of those against their very prospering.
Unfortunately, this idea became all too real in August of 1955 with the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Till, native of Chicago and visiting family in Money, Mississippi, was out with friends when he was accused of whistling and making flirtatious comments toward a white woman. Later that evening, the woman’s husband and his brother dragged Till from his family’s home, beat him, shot him in the head, then proceeded to tie a 72-pound cotton gin to his neck using barbed wire before throwing his lifeless body into the Tallahatchie River. Following, as an act of showing the world the violence that suffocated the black community, his mother proceeded to have an open casket funeral for her 14-year-old boy.
Despite the constant tactics of those in the white community and government that sought to keep the black community underprivileged and in fear, black people continued to take a stand. Following the unapologetic stance of Rosa Parks, Dr. King lead the harnessing of the community’s agency in 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. During this time, blacks turned inward toward their communities and away from the public transportation in which they fell to segregation while using. Instead, they carpooled and walked. This made a huge impact on the city’s municipal bus company due to them making up 70 percent of their business, forcing the local bus company to face near bankruptcy. Because of the black community taking a hard stance against segregation on busses, the practice was later abolished due to being found against the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment.
A little under a decade later, Dr. King delivered his speech addressing his people and his nation speaking of equal opportunity, employment and the right to vote. The pain hadn’t stopped, from the moment our ancestors stepped from the ships of those who raped and pillaged their land, and built America on their backs, to the moment when freedom was strategically afforded with no job skills, literacy or opportunity for blacks to land on their feet. The climate in 1960, centuries after the beginning of slavery, still has the same repulsive chill now in the year 2019. The black community still strives for the right to work, the right to learn, and most essentially, the right to live.
The celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day is way more than just a day marked as a reminder on calendars, it is way more than a day to remember him, but a day to remember what he took a stand for and why he had to. Far too often leaders that take a stand in the black community are slain for standing up for their people, and Dr. King is no different. He fearlessly gave his life for his people, and for that, we should honor not only his legacy, but his purpose and vision. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day is celebrated on January 21st.