It was late August, 1963. I was 12. I remember my father calling me into his room. The radio was on, and I heard cheering. It was not a baseball game kind of cheer — it seemed louder and longer. It was a sustained roar.
My dad, aged 72 and blind, pointed in the direction of the radio with one hand, and put his other index finger to his lips. He was telling me to be quiet and to listen.
Next I heard the voice. A combination of speech and chanting. The cadence was like none I ever heard. The word music rose and fell, the power was like a wave — swelling and then resting, soon to rise again.
My father’s blind eyes were shining in the window light. He was tearful, his lips pursed, his head gently nodding in agreement, timed to the melody of the voice. Seeing my father so moved gave me a sense that history was being made.
There, in that sun-bathed room, I was captured by the sound of that voice, and felt the power of its persuasion. I never saw my father so attentive. All of his energy focused on listening to the words.
“I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 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.’ ”
Dr. King’s monumental speech commanded the attention of not only the half-million who gathered in view of Abraham Lincoln’s statue on the Washington Mall, but touched the hearts and influenced the minds of a nation to pay attention and take action.
That speech on that sweltering August day ignited a charge of energy that would not be stopped — not by gushing fire hoses, snarling dogs, enraged threats, church bombs or snipers’ bullets. At the tender age of 35, that eloquent preacher from Atlanta set in motion a flood of individual and collective actions which would change how people viewed not only our neighbors, but ourselves.
The ideals of Dr. King’s mission were rooted in his Christian faith; his principles and civil disobedience techniques were borrowed from Gandhi. But no matter our faith, race, ethnicity, gender or age, the heroic vision and oratorical brilliance of Dr. King is a beacon for us all.
Although his life was cut short at age 39 by an assassin’s bullet in April, 1968, Dr. King’s legacy lives in anyone who chooses to question those who would hold us captive to old ideas and discriminatory policies.
Has all that Dr. King envisioned come to pass? Not yet.
Has his legacy brought forth a tremendous surge of change in attitude, law, and economic opportunity? Yes.
Justice is not static — it’s active, and must be actively asserted and strictly guarded every day. Every generation has its opportunity and obligation to recognize problems and create solutions.
In memory and in tribute to those who marched, fought and sacrificed for the rights we hold dear, being responsible citizens is one of our highest callings.
Jack Levine, Founder of 4Generations Institute, is a family policy advocate based in Tallahassee.