Dr. King’s Memorial is About the Reality Not “The Dream”

26 Aug

dr. wilmer leon, black politics

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III

On Sunday August 28th the memorial to Dr. King will formally be dedicated.  After fourteen years of struggle, fundraising, and a lot of hard work, the Dr. King memorial will officially take its rightful place among the pantheon of other great Americans.

This ceremony will coincide with the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s "I Have a Dream" speech.  A lot of the public discourse and promotion of the event has focused on the concept of “The Dream” and has ignored what I believe to be the reality of Dr. King.

If one studies Dr. King’s speeches and writings and understands the context of their time the reality is that Dr. King was not about politics, he was about policy. He was not about elected positions and presidents, he was about people.  Dr. King was not about tax breaks for the wealthiest of us, he was about social programs for the least of us.  He was not about a war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya.  He saw “…war as an enemy of the poor…” and attacked it as such.

The best way to pay tribute to Dr. King and his total sacrifice is to understand what he stood for.  Dr. King did got give America and the world his ultimate sacrifice; he was not assassinated because of his “Dream”, he was assassinated because of the reality of his vision.

On August 28, 1963 Dr. King the realist stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, “—we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition." That was no dream; that was our reality and a clear indictment of the social conditions in America at that time.  The most recent Pew Research Center report (link), based on 2009 data finds, "The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households…" These are the largest disparities since Pew began publishing the data more than 25 years ago. Moreover, about a third of black (35 percent) … households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15 percent of white households." Forty-eight years later too many African Americans continue to languish in the corners of American society.

In the same speech, Dr. King the strict constructionist referred to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. He stated, "It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” and added, “Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check – a check which has come back marked insufficient funds," again, a clear indictment of America in 1963. These problems persist today, reflected in the unemployment rates.  For African Americans in many regions of this country the numbers reflect a tale of two cites, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; … it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, African American joblessness is at 16.2 percent. For black males, it’s at 17.5 percent; and for black teens, it’s nearly 41 percent.

As disturbing as the unemployment numbers are for African Americans, they don’t begin to tell the whole story. When these numbers are viewed in the context of other factors such as the disparity in median family income, wealth accumulation, disproportionate rates of incarceration, and poverty levels they indicate that an entrenched systemic social policy problem exists for African Americans that a jobs recovery will not address.

The “Dream” is only relevant when understood in its proper context.  Dr. King spoke of the dream in the context of a horrific reality for “Negro’s” and the poor. What makes the “dream” significant is its juxtaposition against America’s reality, failures, and oppression of its own citizens. Dr. King was correct then and proves to be prophetic today.

It is estimated that America has spent almost in excess of $1.171 trillion fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. As the national debt exceeds $14 trillion and Congress and the White House are debating over which social and/or entitlement programs to cut, Dr. King spoke to the “facile connection” between war and the struggle to eliminate poverty in America. He knew that America would never invest the resources to rehabilitate its poor so long as adventures like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya drew people, skills, and money away like “some demonic suction tube.”

The words of Dr. King’s that should resonate within us all are the following:

The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap.  The limited reforms have been obtained at bargain rates.  There are no expenses, and no taxes are required , for Negroes to share lunch counters, libraries, parks, hotels, and other facilities with whites…The real cost lies ahead.  The stiffening of white resistance is a recognition of that fact.  The discount education given Negroes will in the future have to be purchased at full price if quality education is to be realized.  Jobs are harder and costlier to create than voting rolls.  The eradication of slums housing millions is complex far beyond integrating buses and lunch counters. (1968 “Where Do We Go From Here Chaos or Community?”)

As the world pays homage to this great man and the “Dream” that he lived for, don’t loose site of reality that he gave his life to correct.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Go to Dr. Leon’s Prescription of Face Book.

© 2011 InfoWave Communications, LLC.

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5 Responses to “Dr. King’s Memorial is About the Reality Not “The Dream””

  1. marksallen August 26, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    There is a strong sense of hypocrisy with the Dr. King memorial in that if the people who raised the majoriity of the $120 MILLION dollar monument construction; the international media who are about to swarm us with The “I have A Dream” quotes actually promoted the actual programs of Dr. King, ESPECIALLY his national Operation Breadbasket Economic Program – our inner cities would not be facing 20-40% unemployment and majority Black communities would be economically controlled by Black people.

  2. JanetL August 27, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    Dr. King had a Dream and that dream to some extent has become reality. We know what Dr. King stood for and who he stood for many in the struggle know Dr. King well. This article is striking, we know all about Dr. King we lived the struggle and to write an article trying to separate Dr. King from his Dream for America and what and who he stood for is just double speak.

    Let’s remember Dr. King in honor of his dream, who he stood for, why he stood for them, and how he worked hard and fought for America to be a better place especially for people of color. Trying to Split Hairs and explain Dr. King to those who were in the struggle is just wrong.

    Let’s just concentrate on doing the “Work” of Dr. King and his vision and stop writing articles trying to explain and man who it seems you didn’t know or were not in the struggle.

    Dr. Kings legacy trancends this article attempting to explain to so many who he is and what he stood for. Those in the sturggle are trying to make the Dream become even more of a reality.

    You cannot separate Dr. Kings Dream from his works, his vision and the Christian that he was. We don’t need this new theory preaching to the choir. Just pitch in and do your part, too much talking and writing articles with differing angles and not enough work is getting done to live the Dream and all that’s inclusive in it!

  3. doverdavis August 27, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    I think your clarification of the Dream is accurate and due. Some people see the Dream as the “Guiding Principle” forgetting that Dr. King was a Man of God. The Dream is a Philosophical-Ideological concept; it is not a fact. It must be realized and actualized by it believers.

    Black people must remember that Dr. King was a Man of God who put God and Jesus first. So, the Dream should be secondary to “The Ten Commandments”. The Ten Commandments should be the Guiding Principle.

  4. Mark S. Allen August 27, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    ONCE AGAIN —- WHO want to restart Dr. Kings community economic empowerment program?

  5. bviaud February 11, 2012 at 12:07 am #

    Dr. Wilmer Leon certainly was not just handed his Ph.D. He speaks with authority and passion, and has a clear grasp of his context. I haven’t read a comparable breakdown like the one where he explains the Dr. Martin Luther King era, and his platform. And, while I lived through the era, he definitely shed more light on the issues we faced as an American people.

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