“WE” Are The Future That Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Speaking To

On a hot summer day in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was publicly addressing our parents and our grandparents in one of our country’s most well-known civil rights demonstrations in Washington D.C.

The truth is, he actually was addressing us, the unborn constituents, inherent of our country’s legacy.  The Future.

Have we done right by him?  Would he be proud of what we have accomplished?

In the 70’s and 80’s in elementary and middle school, we spent a lot of time studying civil rights and the teachings, of Dr. King, our educators having watched his now famous speech first hand on television, and reread it in the newspapers, mindfully preparing their lesson plans.  We were a passionate society, back then.  No internet, computers about to give birth.

The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968.  President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later, around the time I was exiting high school, (equipped with the teachings of those passionate educators).  At first, some states resisted observing the holiday, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays.  I actually remember this.  I can tell you which two states put up the biggest stink.

It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in the year 2000.  This was the year my first child was born, and kids began to observe the third Monday of January as a day off school.

This morning, on the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I asked my 16 and 12 year old daughters if they knew who Martin Luther King was.  It went like this:

Me to oldest:  “Do you know who Martin Luther King, Jr. was?”

Oldest:  “He made that ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

Me to oldest:  “Do you know what it was about?”

Oldest:  “Civil Rights.”   (End of conversation, as that is as far as her 11th grade education has provided so far, or as much of an impression that has been made in her 16 years of celebrating this national holiday.)

Me to Youngest:  “Do You know who Martin Luther King, Jr. was?”

Youngest:  “Didn’t he go to prison?”

Oldest to Youngest:  “No, that was Nelson Mandela.”

That was the end of the conversation, and when I sat down to share a gift with you.

Given what I just witnessed, I feel I wouldn’t be doing my job as a U.S. Citizen, a believer in Civil Rights, a parent, and as a GenXer if I didn’t share the entire speech for you to read, as this is an important and integral part of American History, if not World History, and  deserves to be brought out to the light for all ages.  I would be so impressed by he who can cast this to memory.  Enjoy, and Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“I Have a Dream”

By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Public Address, The March on Washington, August 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.  It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.  One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.  One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.  One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.  So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.  When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.  This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.  Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”  But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.  We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.  We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.  This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.  Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.  Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.  Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.  Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.  This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.  Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.  Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.  There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.  The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice.  In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.  Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.  We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.  Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.  The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for 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.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.  We cannot turn back.  There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.  We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.  We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”.  We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.  No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations.  Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.  Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.  You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.  Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, 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.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.  This is the faith that I go back to the South with.  With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.  With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.  With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true.  So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.  Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.  From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

If Ronald Reagan Were Alive Today, Would He Take To Twitter?

Ronald Reagan was my favorite president, and I’ve gotten to see and live through a few of them.

Regardless of what you may think, this is not a political post, but a sincere toast to a man that I never for one second felt lacked in class in any way.   Maybe also a sincere toast to a few of the men I’ve loved before.

My first love was Mr. President Gerald R. Ford.  In 1976, I was proud to be an American, and participate in the greatest party of all time.  Seriously, I don’t think I’ve been to a more fun party since.  I’m talking about the 200 year Bicentennial celebration of our country.  I can’t help but to remember standing in the mid-western market with my mom, buying ears of corn for a front yard BBQ on the Fox River, eyeing the Bicentennial posters (oh, if I could have one now!) and listening to my absolute favorite song coming out of a car radio speaker… Bohemian Rhapsody.  (OK, my secret favorite song was 50 ways to Leave Your Lover and I still know the words by heart).  I was 8 years old.  I felt safe.

The following year, my heart would be absolutely crushed.  Not by the boy who would swing his (or mine, more details below) metal lunch pail at me when I tried to kiss him at the bus stop leaving me with a black eye – there’s a picture somewhere), but by the fact that the man who made me feel so safe and alive in my country was leaving office.  This incoming new guy’s name was Jimmy Carter.  It was one of the first big changes in my young life.  Could he live up?  Does he have good quotes?

When I was in elementary school, I learned to love President Jimmy Carter, though my young heart still missing Gerald wanted to call this new guy Mr. Peanut.  That was, of course because unfortunate weather caused a peanut drought in the very later part of the 1970’s and my mom and I went from small town market to market looking for just one jar of my sustenance.  The magic ingredient between the bread and the jelly which was loving placed inside my beloved Speed Buggy metal lunch box.  I remember having a conversation with my mom about not being able to accept the new president.  She assured me the peanut drought would be over soon.   (He’s got the biggest smile – swoon – and he will live to see the cure for Guinea Worm, of which he’s fought so hard for a cure (love).

We would soon have the second oil crisis of my young life, and I would learn the ins and outs of odd-even rationing.  I was ten years old by this time, and developed a keen eye for license plate numbers.  I preferred to watch people waiting in gas lines on the television (this was before sensationalism and #fakenews) than actually have to sit in the back seat of the Cutlas with my 6 year old brother in the midwestern humid swelter.  Someone might see me for gosh sakes!  I should have supported my mom more and waited in those lines with her.  Looking back now, I’m sorry Mom, that wasn’t fair you waited in those long lines alone during a legitimate crisis.

But then we had an even bigger thing to worry about.  It was 1981 and time to escape my safe rural suburban life northwest of Chicago and move to California, where I would of course meet the Beach Boys and become Miss America.  And sure enough, we arrive, and not long after, the most wonderful man ever to run for office and run a country was elected as our POTUS and took office.  I arrived in Los Angeles just in time to watch the inaugural celebration in my 6th grade classroom.  The man had So. Much. Class.

I began to feel safe again.  I lived through the peanut shortage, the two gas shortages, now there would be plenty of everything for everybody.  It was the 80’s and The Gipper was my president!  No wait, hold on.  The Chicago Tylenol Murders just went down from the place I had just left.  Was that laced Tylenol meant for me, and I just got super lucky on accident?  I am never taking Tylenol again, I said to my now almost 13 year old self.

** It is 2017 and I STILL have not taken Tylenol.  Lots of other things, sure, but you will never find a Tylenol bottle in my home.  Superstitious much?  Yes.

I’m in middle school now and they are putting me in debate class.  Not all my friends had to live this punishment.  I would never elect this class.  I wondered if they took the absolute most shy kids they had and threw them into a debate class with the most aggressive 8th graders they had, just to see what would happen.  They had to have.

My debate was going to be titled: “Why did you try to kill me with Tylenol?” but for whatever reason, the teacher at the time rejected my submission and gave me a new topic of debate.  I was going to have to reach out to some very important people and get some help now.

Let me help you out there.  The title of the debate reads:

“Should the United States Rule Out a Nuclear First Strike?”

What?  Holly Heck!

Please note, my position was a resounding YES!

How I pulled that off, well, to this day I will never know.  I reached out to everyone I could think of who was as terrified at the thought of a Nuclear First Strike as I was.  I received personal letters (not form letters, mind you) from the following, who important at the time, continued to go on to do even bigger things:  Senator Alan Cranston, Senator Pete Wilson (before he was Governor), California State Assembly Member Tom Hayden, Congress Member Mel Levine, Anne Higgins, who was the Special Assistant to the President, assuring me that President Reagan too wants peace, a very thoughtful and well written letter from VP George Bush and the piece de resistance… the speech given by President Regan to Scholars honoring Excellence in Education and Nuclear Arms Reduction made on June 16, 1983.

Less than 2 years later, the man put an end to the Cold War.

So, in closing, I ask you again.  If President Reagan were alive today, would he take to Twitter himself?  I think not.  His Library, of course, (I love following the Ronald Reagan Library on Twitter!)

Post Scripts:  I still collect Bicentennial quarters, so keep your coin purse out of my sight or I will take them from you.  (Or come play coins with me).  I’ve blocked out the name of the boy with the eye blackening swing – rats!  I would have acknowledged him today.  To my 12 year old daughter, stop watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix and go write your government officials about something important.  Please.  And to everyone else, if you are the rare individual who wants to read my debate from the 80’s and see and touch these amazing historical documents, HMU, K?

Much love from the GenXSociety,

Shawn Anthony Noetzli

You can also find me @ www.shawnnoetzli.com

And here’s a little something extra.  A play list from this post, enjoy.