Weekly Reflection


Dream Deferred?

By Julie Arndt, Messenger Editor

On the afternoon of August 28, 1963, on what I imagine was a blisteringly hot and miserable humid day in Washington, DC, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took the podium at the March on Washington and addressed the gathered crowd.

They had traveled to the nation’s capitol from all over the country to protest racial discrimination and to encourage national leaders to pass the Civil Rights Act.  The first official Freedom Train arrived at Washington’s Union station from Pittsburgh at 8:02 am. Within a couple of hours, thousands of human beings of all races, backgrounds, ages  poured through the stations every five minutes, while almost two buses a minute rolled into DC from across the country.

About 250,000 people showed up that day. Hollywood’s biggest names mingled with the crowds on the Washington Mall, including Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, James Garner and Harry Belafonte.  There were performances by the likes of Mahalia Jackson. Then the young Baptist minister from Georgia, who had become the reluctant leader of a social revolution, stepped to the microphone.

Advisors had warned him that the phrase for which this day would become known, “I have a dream,” was trite and repetitive. The people had heard it before.  He wanted this speech to go down in history, like the Gettysburg address. He wanted it to be remembered. While King was by now a national political figure, relatively few outside the black church and the civil rights movement had heard him give a full address. With all three television networks offering live coverage of the march for jobs and freedom, this would be his introduction to the nation.

The real magic and power happened when he set aside his prepared text and began to preach. After all, that’s who he was. He was reared by Southern Baptist preachers, and was a Biblical scholar, educated in prestigious universities. He had preached to congregations in Atlanta, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama. This was what he did best.

He preached about “the dream.”

Even though some of his advisors, and even some scholars, found the speech uninspiring President Kennedy was watching and he was impressed. Everyone, including the FBI, recognized the reach of King’s words and the leaders of the Bureau marked him “the most dangerous negro to the future of this nation.”

He was considered dangerous because he demanded change. People who demand change are often marked as dangerous. They interrupt the status quo. Even when the status quo demands change.  Sound like anyone else weknow?

But here we are, sixty years later,  still looking for the change Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed about. People are consumed by a kind of hatred that leads to mass shootings, police brutality, and an assault on the White House two years ago that left us angry and shaken to the depths of our souls.

Where is Dr. King’s dream today? Have we given up on racial justice? Has Dr. King’s dream, like the one in Langston Hughes’ poem Dream Deferred, “dried up like a raisin in the sun?”

We gotta do better, people. We can’t let the bad guys win.

A Prayer from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Most gracious and all wise God, before whose face the generations rise and fall; Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

We thank thee [for] all of thy good and gracious gifts, for life and for health; for food and for raiment; for the beauties of nature and human nature. We come before thee painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie. We are forever offered the high road and yet we choose to travel the low road. For these sins O God forgive. 

Break the spell of that which blinds our minds. Purify our hearts that we may see thee. O God in these turbulent days when fear and doubt are mounting high give us broad visions, penetrating eyes, and power of endurance. Help us to work with renewed vigor for a warless world, for a better distribution of wealth and for a brother/sisterhood that transcends race or color. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. Amen."