Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to discuss an expansion of freedom for all people.
At that time, African Americans were not allowed to eat in some restaurants, many schools were segregated, and the promise of the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal was not being realized.
King did not simply focus on discrimination but of the promise of freedom.
For the past 50 years, America has made great progress of erasing the ugly stain of racism that existed at the nation’s founding.
When King delivered his speech, there were four African Americans in Congress, not even 1 percent.
Today, there are 44, or 8 percent of the entire Congress.
Since African Americans make up 17 percent of the population, they are still under-represented, but progress is being made.
While race has been the cornerstone discussion for the past few weeks due to high-profile legal cases, the progress made in America since King’s momentous speech cannot be ignored.
Today, the United States has an African American president who was re-elected. Debates will continue about politics and policies, but in King’s America 50 years ago, this would have seemed impossible.
While the freedom King sought for all people has been formed in some areas, other conditions have led to additional difficulty.
A recent government study indicated that 72 percent of African American births occurred to unwed mothers. That number was only 24 percent when King gave his speech in 1963.
Children born out of wedlock tend to have higher public assistance requirements, and that reduces the chances to living the dream that King wanted for all people.
And he didn’t want to replace one form of slavery with another, something that dependence creates. King advocated for people to supply their own needs by having opportunity.
Unfortunately, his vision was clouded by those seeking to silence the call for equality with government handouts.
King said he didn’t want to see African Americans transferred from small ghettos to larger ones, but that, too, has happened.
King urged against a distrust of all white people, stating “many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
When limitations can be put on one, they can be placed on all.
King knew that freedom had to be universal, and that society would have to change its heart, not its laws.
The dream is closer today than it was 50 years ago, but it is not complete.
We all need to focus, as King said, on the content of our character, not the color of our skin.
Whites who believe there is no bias are not living in reality, and African Americans who believe that arrests are all race-based are denying the facts.
Are we free at last? No. But we are better and getting better every day.
Today is not a day to look at the remaining disparity but to recognize the progress.
Freedom is not a liberal or a conservative issue. Freedom is an American value.
The work must continue.