Tuesday, February 26, 2013

August 1963

by Jean Falkowski
     It was sweltering in the house. The humid heat pushed down on me like a hot blanket. The stagnant air barely moved as the little fan bravely tried to bring a breath of cool air around me. August on the Florida panhandle, with heat near one hundred degrees every day and very little rain, had been almost unbearable. Sitting on the couch watching our small black and white television set, I wondered how all those people around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, waiting for Dr. Martin Luther King to begin his speech, could stand the heat.  At nineteen years old, I wanted to hear Dr. King speak. Only small parts of his speeches had been on the news and I wanted to hear all of what he would say.
      Dr. King walked out on the stage and the applause was thunderous. He began to speak, his voice ringing out over the crowd. His passion for his cause filled every word with hope and fire.  He made me feel like he was talking just to me. It was not a long speech, but he made some very good points that I think should be heard again.
“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.”

      He is right, I think. Why can’t we be treated equally? Why does the color of our skin determine what we can and cannot do? Why should the color of someone’s skin determine that person’s worth? Men and women should be treated equally also, no one should be thought of as a second class citizen.
“ I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and before the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. “
      As he speaks, I can imagine what life will be like when life is not as hard as it is now for all black people. I sure hope this happens while I’m alive. Wouldn’t it be great when every child has a chance to learn all they are capable of?  It doesn’t make any difference what color their skin is.  They have a brain, and they can be taught to read, to write and do arithmetic. The more a person knows, the easier their lives will be. The challenges they face will not be so hard.
“And I say to you today my friends, 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 mighty Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!”
“Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado!”
“Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!”
“But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia!”
“Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee!”
“Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in 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 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! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”
       Just think of how good it will be to be able to talk to anyone without having to worry about their color.  Just think we will be able to sit by anyone we want to. Why -  I will even be able to go to a black church and not be afraid that someone might not like that and might even hurt innocent people. I will be able to be friends with whomever I please. Maybe someday, blacks and whites can even be legally married.  I sure hope His dream comes true.
       I had high hopes that day back in 1963.  And, I am happy to say, I lived to see so many of the changes he wanted come to pass.
       Today, most people do not realize how much things have changed. They think nothing of all children going to the same school. Everyone can be treated by any doctor they wish to see. A hospital will accept any person, regardless of their color or creed. There are no areas of town that are for one ethic group and not the others. People have the right to be employed wherever they can do the job for which they are hired. We have police men and women of all races and creed and nobody thinks anything about it.  Although some people don’t know any different, I do. I am so thankful for the liberties I have today: people like Martin Luther King worked hard and some, like him, sacrificed their lives to make those freedoms possible.
      A lot of the character traits that made Dr. King such a good leader would help us all to be better people still today. He believed in the dignity of labor, justice for all people, kindness toward everyone. He said he would “stick with love because hate is too great a burden.” How can anyone not admire a man of such character?  So, this month, African American History Month, I want to salute the man who made such a difference in my own life.  Thanks, Dr. King, for everything.


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