From Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr: Is The Dream Still Relevant?

Created: 18 January, 2016
Updated: 16 October, 2022
4 min read

On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln announced his intention to order the emancipation of all slaves in the states that did not end their rebellion by January 1, 1863.

So on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the famous and historical presidential proclamation and executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation and intended to free those slaves.

That alone did not free the slaves in areas still under rebellion. However, as more Confederate regions were controlled by the Union army, more slaves were emancipated with the help of the Proclamation.

Since Lincoln’s preliminary announcement and enactment of the Proclamation did not cover states that were not in rebellion nor under occupation by Union troops, it wasn’t until the ratification and adoption of the 13th Amendment in December 1865 that made slavery illegal throughout the United States.

Soon, there would be subjection to wage slavery, discrimination, segregation, lynching, and denial of democratic rights. So, it was obvious that the civil rights struggles persisted and would continue through further years.

On August 6, 1946, Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter to the editor of Atlanta’s largest newspaper, The Atlanta Constitution, stated that the decent treatment of “the Negro,” as he put it, was something that was often urged and was confronted with the “scarecrow of social mingling” by a certain class of people.

MLK went on to be a national political figure, using his “I have a dream” lines a number of times during his civil rights campaign. He used it so much in fact an adviser told him not to use those lines for the upcoming March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

“It’s trite, it’s cliché. You’ve used it too many times already,” said Wyatt Walker, a chief strategist for Dr. King.

The speech was then prepared, excluding the “I have a dream” lines. It was good, but not as powerful as many have heard him before. By MLK’s standards, it was going to be a fairly unremarkable speech.

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Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who was previously moved by his “I have a dream” lines, shouted to him for the second time, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!” After a long pause filled with applause, he decided to set aside his prepared speech and continued with the unplanned:

“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” And the part of the speech that was almost left out, became part of history.

Deserving of such admiration was also Joachim Prinz, the president of the American Jewish Congress. He was the speaker previous to Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke on his experience during Hitler’s time:

“A great people who had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder” and with a message to America, he said that we must not become “a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent.”

We might state that we have accomplished much and the "dream" might already be achieved with the election and re-election of an African-American president and similar success stories in a variety of fields. However, recent incidents, struggles and invigorated millennium movements such as #BlackLivesMatter might lead us to believe that we have more to achieve in order to accomplish the intention of such a dream.

While the #BlackLivesMatter encountered an #alllivesmatter movement, efforts have been made to clarify that it is not their intent to state that only their lives matter, but they argue that it is more than mere opinion that there seems to be a lack of care and fair treatment toward the lives of African-Americans.

Ironically, pro-life groups have made appeals claiming that "the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb," and promote their agenda with a certain level of appeal.

Furthermore, a recently introduced bill in Missouri, titled "The All Lives Matter Act," seems to line up with that reasoning, as well as Dr. Ben Carson, candidate for the Republican nomination for president, when he suggests that it should be changed to "all black lives matter."

If all claims were verified in these cases, even within the particular political party inclinations, then the case for Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream could prove just as relevant today as it was back then.

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There is an overwhelming understanding or impression that there is political, racial, and ideological hate -- hate to which we must not remain silent, regardless of where we find ourselves in the political spectrum. We continue the lines of the “I have a dream” speech, regardless of how trite or cliché that might seem when we advance the reality of the dream.

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