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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / Op-Ed

Fifty years after King's speech, still work to do

By Emanuel Jones

On Tuesday, the one-year countdown will begin to the 50th anniversary of the momentous March on Washington and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Nearly half a century’s passed since King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, facing a crowd of nearly a quarter of a million people. Many of those Americans had made a difficult and dangerous journey from the South to Washington to hear King and other Civil Rights leaders. They had passed “whites only” signs at lunch counters and motels, bathrooms and water fountains.

In 1963, for millions of Americans, trying to register to vote was a dangerous thing to do. It was a foolhardy idea to think of running for elected office. The simple act of sitting down at a lunch counter in the wrong place could incite a furious reaction, even violence. All of that seems so long ago, so utterly un-American and maybe even a little unreal today. But it was the daily life of African-Americans living in the South and, to a lesser degree, in Northern cities.

The fact that America is so different today was not the work of a single moment or a single man. But without the presence of Martin Luther King Jr. at the microphone before the largest Civil Rights gathering our nation had ever seen, how could we imagine the America we have inherited today?

As he stood in the hot August sun that day in 1963, King taught us that great dreams can have great power when they begin with an indisputable truth. Though it was denied by many in the South, the bedrock truth that all men are created equal could not be denied as King demanded that America live up to its founding creed and finally end segregation. When he finished speaking those amazing words, his dream, powered by that undeniable truth, swept the crowd before him up into a rapturous joy. People hugged each other and wept. They were knocked over by the power of his simple idea of freedom. His words swept across America until “I Have a Dream” entered the national consciousness alongside the words of Jefferson and Lincoln, Kennedy and Roosevelt.

From that moment in 1963, segregation was doomed. But King’s dream was about much more than our laws. He called on us to not just fix a wrong but to live what’s right. That work isn’t finished. That’s why this anniversary is so important. I ask that every Georgian join me in not just remembering our state’s famous son but also in using the inspirational power of his words to make our country a better place. State Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, is chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Advisory Council.