Stone of hope
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered before 250,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963 contained the following sentence:
“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
Faith, despair, hope: These words contain a vision of collective effort (“hew out of the mountain”) and shared aspiration (“stone of hope”) that condensed the challenge confronting our country and the goals of civil rights movement at that time.
Today, we are still striving to reach this ideal — a shared dream of social justice and collective compassion.
The March on Washington epitomized King’s policy of non-violent activism, and inspired the civil rights legislation that followed.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 began the process of change that will eventually — we hope — afford “all of God’s children” social justice and equal opportunities.
Because even as we recognize the enormous gains of the movement that King inspired, we also recognize that we have far to go.
Without his eloquence on the National Mall in 1963, we would not have begun undoing centuries of injustice, nor would we have delayed that task beyond a tolerance threshold. King reminded us then, and he reminds us now, of what we should be, of what we can be as individuals and as a nation.
Please take a minute to go to YouTube and watch King’s “Dream Speech.” I promise that you’ll be touched by the intensity of his voice, the poetry of his words, by the biblical cadences of his sentences and the repeated phrases that build in pitch and momentum: “I have a dream.” “I have a dream.” “I have a dream.”
If you’re like me, you’ll be moved to tears by his words, in part because you’ll also remember his senseless death five years later on April 14, 1968. Let’s engage these emotions when we honor King to renew our commitment to his dream.
The sentence that I quoted at the beginning of my comments is now sculpted on the stone in the memorial to King on the Mall, inaugurated by President Obama three months ago.
In his remarks, the President noted that Martin Luther King, Jr. has now come back to the Mall, almost 50 years after his famous speech, to stand between Lincoln and Jefferson.
So King takes his monumental place in our history, and continues to challenge us to turn despair into hope by peacefully insisting upon justice for all peoples, everywhere.
Lois Zamora, Ph.D, is a John and Rebecca Moores Distinguished Professor of English and may be reached at [email protected]