They came by the thousands and they were there for me, a white child. I just didn’t know it at the time. However, it would be almost impossible to have missed, this last week, the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech, even for those who were unaware of the significance of that speech, even for those who are diametrically opposed to everything that Martin Luther King and his followers stood and stand for.
As our president, Barack Obama, summed it up:
"They came by the thousands, from every corner of our country, Men and women, young and old, blacks who longed for freedom, and whites who could no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of others."
I’ve heard about that speech, seen clips from it, found my own position on the subject, acquired my own memories from that time, and yet. And yet, in watching the 50-year-old images of the crowds who gathered that day, in really looking at them, I saw something amazing. I saw women in their summer dresses and hats, I saw men in white shirts and ties, I saw smiling faces, I saw different ages and races, I saw innocence. I saw the innocence and trust of people who loved their country and believed they would not be attacked just for being there. They came because they had been invited, because they wanted to stand up not just for themselves, not just for a single thought, but because they knew that until the burdens of racial injustice and hatred and abuse and all the terrible wrongs of racism and bigotry and inequality had been lifted, even those who hated them would suffer. The courage represented in those gentle yet determined walkers I cannot imagine or worse, find within myself.
Taking the opportunity to listen to that speech, only seventeen minutes long but it changed the world, Dr. King laid out concerns and remedies for black and white, for poor and rich, for young and old, and yes, even for gay and straight. And it is still true today. We just still need to listen.