The Dream Is Not Satisfied

If one is going to quote Martin Luther King’s thoughts on the “content of their character,” they should really take a look at the rest of King’s Dream. Too much of that dream has been deferred, even half a century after his death.

When King posited in his Dream speech, “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’,” he answered with a list of still unfinished business.

“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”  Until black men and women like George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Duante Wright, Andre Hill, Breonna Taylor, and scores of others can live under the protection of the police instead of in fear of those officers of the law, King’s dream has not been satisfied.

“We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.” Until the limitations on the right to vote are removed, until The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is passed, until the franchise is seen as a right for all instead of a privilege for few, King’s Dream has not been satisfied.

King’s “dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood” will not be satisfied until the accouterments of the Confederacy are removed and the table is set by the former oppressors instead of by the oppressed.

On this day, those seeking to tear down King’s legacy will selectively choose snippets of his speeches and writings to justify their actions while ignoring his words that still ring true with a bitter truth over 50 years after his murder.

Five years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, in his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, King wrote, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” He went on to say, “In the days ahead we must not consider it unpatriotic to raise certain basic questions about our national character.”

It takes the willful, purposeful placing of blinders over one’s eyes to fail to see the current debate around the teaching of “divisive topics” in the words written by King over five decades ago. Those who wish to pat themselves on the back for their progress with one hand are using the other to twist the arms of people of color. In doing so, they have used the words of King’s dream to create a nightmare for the very generations he was fighting to protect.

Today, on this day when we celebrate the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when people post the comfortable, sanitized version of King that allows them to feel good about themselves, ask if he would be satisfied with that depiction, or if he would repeat his invective, “Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.”

I dare say, the work is not done, the Dream has not been satisfied.

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