Question: Does Dr. King’s transcendent dream still inspire the American people?
Yesterday, August 28, 2020, was the 57th anniversary of Dr. King’s transformative “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital.
I still vividly remember the experience of watching that speech as a 16-year-old on the black and white television in our home in Houston. That speech changed my life and my understanding of my country — for which I will be forever grateful.
It enabled me to see our founding documents (I had just finished studying these documents in my Advanced Placement high school civics class the previous semester) as exactly what Dr. King asserted that they were — timeless principles and promises to which our founders aspired and to which we were obligated to continually aspire to more fully implement and achieve. And, that these were not American values, but universal values applicable to each and every human being.
Does Dr. King’s dream of a country where every individual is indeed judged by the content of their character, rather than their skin color, still resonate with Americans today? It still inspires and convicts me to seek to implement that dream and share it with others so the dream will never die. I must confess the events of the past few weeks have been challenging, but my commitment to that vision of America has never, and will never, waver.
Are my fellow Americans still inspired, challenged, and motivated by Dr. King’s vision of a color-blind America that still values individual character and where we can all sit down together at the table of “brotherhood”?
This last week I experienced stirring evidence that the dream still lives.
As I watched Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) speech at the Republican National Convention on Monday night, I was greatly encouraged. One of the most talented and dedicated of the younger generation of senators, Senator Scott told of how he overcame adversities as he put it, of being “a poor black kid . . . from a single parent household.”
He explained that his mother “never lost faith in me, even when I lost faith in myself.”
After finishing his education and becoming a successful businessman, Scott ran for Congress in 2010 in an overwhelmingly white district in Charleston (where the Civil War actually started when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumpter) and on top of that, his opponent was a son and political heir to Strom Thurmond (the once infamous “Dixiecrat” who ran for president against Harry Truman in 1948 and carried five Deep South states, including South Carolina).
Scott asked rhetorically how he managed to win that race. His answer brought me right up out of my La-Z-Boy in my den at home. Tim Scott answered,
Because of the evolution of the heart; in an overwhelmingly white district . . . the voters judged me on the content of my character, not the color of my skin.
Clearly, Senator Scott was, and still is, highly energized and motivated by Dr. King’s vision for America.
He went on to assert that “our nation’s arc always bends back toward fairness. We are not fully where we ought to be . . . but thank God we are not where we used to be!” Amen to that!
He then became a living, breathing illustration of what Dr. King was calling on America to produce — a young, talented, black American who could with conviction and feeling declare to an entire nation,
We are always striving to be better. . . . When we stumble, and we will, we pick ourselves back up and try again. We don’t give in to cancel-culture. . . . We have work to do . . . but I believe in the goodness of America . . . the promise that all men, all women are created equal.
I know Dr. King must have been smiling down from heaven as Senator Scott spoke these words with deep conviction — and optimism. If Tim Scott can clutch Dr. King’s dream to his chest and keep it alive and growing in his heart, then so should all of his fellow Americans, renewing their commitment to creating the fairest, most generous, welcoming society yet created on this planet — and one that continues to evolve toward ever greater justice for all.
On a personal note, I experienced a vivid reminder on Thursday night of the incredible spiritual, mental, and physical discipline it took for Dr. King and his followers to face down non-violently the implacable evil they faced at the hands of the white supremacists of their generation in the KKK and the “White Citizens’ Councils.”
I had the great privilege of being in attendance on the South Lawn of the White House for the President’s acceptance speech after being nominated for a second term as President by the Republican Party.
It was a very special event, with the crowd singing “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” with obvious heart-felt conviction, the event culminating with fireworks display worthy of the 4th of July.
As we left the White House, my fellow attendees and I were accosted by a very hostile crowd screaming obscenities at us. They did not seem to be excessively concerned in their choice of vocabulary with certain body functions and inappropriate mother-son relationships described in the most profane, vulgar “Anglo-Saxonisms” imaginable. I am very grateful my wife was not with me to be subjected to such vile verbal abuse. Unfortunately, many men’s wives were. These demonstrators were for all of their crudity and threatening manner, a pale imitation of what Dr. King and his followers faced in the fifties and sixties.
It did depress me that such a great percentage of the mob were black, indicating they had either rejected, or had given up, on Dr. King’s dream.
As I was enduring this gauntlet of verbal abuse and threatening physical behavior, it really helped to concentrate on Senator Tim Scott and his shining example. My hope and my prayer are that Senator Tim Scott and America will prevail, not those who would divide us by race and ethnicity. For me, and I pray for the majority of my fellow Americans, the dream still lives.
Dr. Richard Land, BA (magna cum laude), Princeton; D.Phil. Oxford; and Th.M., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) and has served since 2013 as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Land has been teaching, writing, and speaking on moral and ethical issues for the last half century in addition to pastoring several churches.