American dreamer

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King saw the bigger picture

By Optic Editorial Board

This Optic editorial first appeared on Jan. 17, 2005.

“... 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.’”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963

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It’s wrong to limit the American Dream to the security of home ownership or the comfort of a two-car garage. Wealth is not what gives the Dream its potency, though too often it’s what we think this nation is about.
And so we need a day like today, when we honor a man who helped us see that the American Dream is much, much deeper than that.

Who would be willing to die just to own a home or a nicer car? A fool, perhaps, but no one with any real sense of value. And yet the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advanced was worth dying for, and still is.

Dr. King’s dream of equality and justice for all is the epitome of the American dream. It’s what this nation was founded upon, even if the founders didn’t realize it at the time.

When our founding fathers dedicated their lives and fortunes to the premise that “all men are created equal,” they didn’t consciously mean it. They really meant, “all free white men who own property are created equal.” A few years after they signed the Declaration of Independence, they even wrote into the Constitution that some people — slaves, the ancestors of people like Dr. King — were only three-fifths human. The majority of this nation’s founders were intentionally exclusive in their views of equality.

But still, they created a compelling new perspective on all of humanity, one that demanded that the shackles of slavery and oppression be replaced with the ideal of freedom. They created a dream that could not be suppressed.

This nation fought a great civil war to shed the chains of slavery. We suffered riots and lynchings and hatreds unfathomable as misguided souls held on to that which could not last. Slowly but surely, over decades and centuries of struggle, the American Dream grew stronger.

You can’t suppress the Dream because it was this nation’s destiny to bring it to life. Like a drumbeat, the call for equality is the truth that set us free.

In 1963, at a march for jobs and freedom in this nation’s capital, a single American dreamer created lyrics to go with that drumbeat. “I have a dream,” King said. His words touched our world, our nation and our selves.

We need a day like this. Each year we should remember the man who dared to dream. We must remember that for such dreamers, the job is not complete until the nightmares of injustice and inequality have been overcome.

Give the man this day. Give his dream the future.