Dreams are funny things.
For starters, there are many different types of dreams.
There are the kind you have when you’re asleep, and involve falling, flying, being chased and going to work or to school buck naked.
Then there are the kind you have when you’re awake. Some of these involve things that could come true, like getting a college degree, finding Mr. or Miss Right, finishing a marathon, growing a prize-winning rose, having children or breaking 80 on the golf course.
PDF transcript of full speech as delivered Aug. 28, 1963 | Photo slideshow of March on Washington
Then there are those wide-awake dreams that could come true, but likely won’t, like becoming a famous athlete, making it big in Hollywood, dating George Clooney, winning “American Idol,” earning a Nobel Prize (or, in the case of ink-stained wretches like me, a Pulitzer Prize) or becoming president of the United States.
These are all dreams with a narrow focus, directed toward ourselves. There also are broad, wide-ranging dreams that not only change lives, but the course of human history.
Such was the dream Martin Luther King Jr. expressed a half-century ago today, as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, looking at a sea of people sprawling across the national mall as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The speech has become known as the “I have a dream,” address, but the concept of dreams was not in King’s original script.
About midway through the speech, a voice rang out. It was that of the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.
“Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream.”
At that point, according to witnesses present that historic day, King pushed aside his prepared notes and began to speak off the cuff. In fact, he was no longer speaking, he was preaching.
Up to that point, it was a perfectly fine speech, one that would have undoubtedly been remembered as a footnote to the civil rights movement of the early 1960s.
But when he began to talk about his dream, King’s speech ascended to another level. He began to tell the world of his dream that the color of one’s skin would make no difference, none, in the life of any American, and that all men and women, of any color, would be able to live their lives proud of their race, not burdened by it.
King’s dream has yet to be realized. This country has made great strides, to be sure. People of color are no longer denied the right to vote, to live where they choose, to eat in restaurants or stay in hotels when and where they want, to attend the university of their choice or to send their children to any school. The president of the United States is a man of color, as are other leaders in politics, industry and medicine, as well as the arts and athletics.