The famous speech of Dr Martin Luther king ‘I have a dream’ was delivered fifty years ago today, but still resonates as one of the most inspiring ever made, and that during a time when the USA was deeply divided and racially segregated. We look around in America and across the World for signs of his dream “that one day, on the hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves will sit down in brotherhood, that my children be not judged by the colour of their skin but the content of their character,”. Even though the USA has a black president – a dream seemed too distant on 28 August, 1963 – his words remain unfulfilled. Now in his second term, President Barack Obama has said that in America even today a gap exists and despite enormous gains in every sphere, poverty is still higher amongst African Americans and politics is still divisive.
Dr Martin Luther King made his speech to a crowd of more than two hundred thousand Americans on 28 August standing before the Abraham Lincoln statue in Washington DC, a man who as President fought the first war against slavery. As I recall my imprisonment in American correctional facilities during extradition proceedings instigated against me by the Indian Government, I saw first hand the complete segregation of America based on colour, even in the prison system. There were much higher numbers of people of one particular colour behind bars. Although the USA now has 45 black congressman as compared to five during Dr Kings famous speech, and one senator as opposed to none in 1963, poverty levels are still the highest among them as compared to others despite a rise in the economic condition of African-Americans. The unemployment rate too is higher despite gains in education levels of black people. The theme of Dr Kings famous march for jobs and freedom in 1963 still remains to an extent unfulfilled. The aim to rise above race conflicts and colour prejudice still exists in America.
People like Dr Martin Luther King have voices through which their sheer power of speech can shape the course of events. They can create a thinking and yearning to make a better world free of conflicts. Being a Sikh I look around to find such a powerful speech orator who can raise the issues that have been confronting the Sikhs for too long a time. I feel agitated like the minds of many a Sikh at what I see. But he was not an overnight hero who happened to be in the right place at the right time. His thoughts were shaped in his earlier days of schooling by a black teacher who shared with him the poem ‘A Dream Deferred’ by Langston Hughes. He came under the influence of a famous civil rights activist Bayard Rustin and had walked a long road to reach the day on which his work culminated in his speech. He created a bench mark for all the people in America and around the globe who are committed to the cause of justice and equality and who wish to stand up for human dignity and liberty.
A PhD in theology and Pastor by profession, Dr King was a natural orator who raised the cause to bridge the racial discrimination gap and called upon the world to change in a peaceful manner. The speech delivered during the troubled times in America still inspires people around the globe who are seeking a just and honourable way of living, rising against the widening gaps in their civil societies, nations and states. As we remember that day fifty years later, it is important to realise that America still has some way to travel to give an answer to Dr Martin Luther King’s dreams that he had put before the American people.