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Topics In the News
Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/28/13
Last updated on: 08/28/13
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On August 28, 2013, thousands of Americans, including President Obama and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, gathered at the site where 50 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. The commemoration of a crucial moment in the struggle for African-American civil rights in the United States became a time of assessing both the progress that has been made and the distance still to travel on the road to achieving justice.

President Obama, whose very presence in the White House is a vivid reminder of how Dr. King's dream has to a large extent been realized, said that "To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest as some sometimes do that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years." After listing some of the martyrs of the movement, the President added, "we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete."

"The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice," the President continued, adopting a line from Dr. King, "but it doesn't bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency."

In perhaps the most stirring passage of his speech, the President asserted that the martyred civil rights leader lives on in the spirit he and others embodied in the struggle for justice.

He said, "The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We'll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago."

"I believe that spirit is there, that true force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It's there when the native born recognizing that striving spirit of a new immigrant, when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who were discriminated against and understands it as their own. That's where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other or on each other but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That's where courage comes from."

Many of the speakers on August 28, 2013, including Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), connected the African-American civil rights movement and the glbtq-rights movement and several paid homage to Bayard Rustin, the gay man who helped plan the 1963 March on Washington and who later became a gay rights activist.

As John Becker noted in an article at Bilerico, the commemoration of the 1963 March held on August 24, 2013 also included glbtq people in Dr. King's dream: "speaker after speaker stood up and declared that the push for LGBT equality is a part of the broader civil rights movement."

U.S. Representative John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders and only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, made it perfectly clear that Dr. King's famous dream extended to all Americans: "It doesn't matter whether we are black or white, Latino, Asian American or Native American. It doesn't matter whether we're straight or gay. We are one people."

Attorney General Eric Holder also inluded gays and lesbians among those in the United States still yearning for equal rights and dignity: "Our focus has broadened to include the cause of women, of Latinos, of Asian Americans, of lesbians, of gays, of people with disabilities, and of countless others across this great country who still yearn for equality. I know that in the 21st century we will see an America that is more perfect and more fair."

As Becker reported, "Other prominent non-LGBT speakers such as Martin Luther King III, Benjamin Jealous, Wayne Henderson, and Cory Booker joined out and proud members of the LGBT community like Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Sharon Lettman-Hicks of the National Black Justice Coalition, and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union in advocating for LGBT equality from the speaker's podium."

Below is President Obama's speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.

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