Martin Luther King

I Still Believe in the Dream

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Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cover of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech, delivered August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. I’d planned to do a special blog about the significance of that event, but ‘the best laid plans of mice and men,’ and all that interfered. This is, in fact, the first day in a couple of weeks that I’ve been able to sit comfortably at my keyboard long enough to write more than a paragraph or delete a few dozen emails. Since the day is here, and I’ve not had time to think about what I wanted to write, I will refer readers to my reminiscence of that day on Yahoo! Voices, ‘Living King’s Dream in a Most Unlikely Place.’ Instead of my planned blog, I will regale you with my adventures over the past two months, and maybe show how it relates.

On July 4, I fell prey to a situation that is all too common to people of my age, a fall. And, yes, I broke something – a very critical bone in my hip. Unfortunately, the fracture was small and didn’t show up on the x-rays in the ER when I went for treatment. It was only in August, when it still hurt more than the bruise we suspected it to be should hurt, that they did an MRI (on Aug. 14) and found the break. My primary doctor referred me to an orthopedist – that took a few days – who immediately scheduled me for surgery.

I checked into the hospital on Aug. 22 and the following day they put three screws in my hip to close the fracture and hold the bones in place until they heal. There followed three more days in the hospital; being awakened every three hours to take my pulse and blood pressure, or give me pain medication, changing dressings, checking the catheter, etc.  The day after surgery, physical therapy started. How to walk with crutches or a walker, how to stand, how to sit, exercises to keep the leg muscles from becoming flaccid and prevent blood clots, and all the other things I need to do over the next two to three months to be fully healed.

A trip to the hospital is, I’m sure, a traumatic experience for everyone. For me, it was compounded by the fact that I’d reached my 68th year without ever spending a night in a hospital since being born in one, so I didn’t know what to expect. I think I was just learning hospital protocol when my doctor decided it was safe to send me home and had me discharged.  I’ve never been happier getting kicked out of a place.

So, on this day, as we look back 50 years at Dr. King’s historic speech, how does my stay in the hospital relate? To start with, had this happened in 1963, the delays in getting treatment in the little East Texas town from whence I come wouldn’t have been administrative or technical – I might have actually been denied admission to some of the local medical establishments in my area. And, with all due respect to the Hippocratic Oath, the treatment I would have received from the country doctors in that era would have, in most cases, been limited to only what was legally necessary.

We still have a long way to go in this country before we’ve fully realized King’s ‘Dream,’ but we’ve also come a long way. I’ll spend this day thinking about the progress that has been made, and what I can do to help make more.

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“The Cambria” – A HIFA Highlight

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Author’s Note:  This is a post I wrote at the end of the last HIFA. I’m sharing it again because HIFA is just taking place in Zimbabwe and I’m not there to see the great performances. I wanted to share this with my readers so they, too, can know what wonders there can be even in a country that is as troubled sometimes as Zimbabwe is.  Comments and feedback are welcomed.

Today is the final day of the 2012 Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).  This year’s festival has been marked by some first-rate performances, domestic and international, and the closing day is usually the day the headline acts show their best.  For me, though, the highlight of HIFA is an Irish play, The Cambria, which tells of the American abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglas’s flight to Ireland and England in August 1847 aboard The Cambria, a paddle steamer that was the flagship of the Cunard Line.

Douglas was an escaped slave, subject to being captured and returned to bondage, but when his famous and popular biography was published, making him a potent symbol of the northern abolitionist movement, slaveholders put a large bounty on his head – dead or alive.  Supporters assisted him in getting passage on The Cambria, where he traveled under an assumed name.  In England and Ireland, he appeared as a speaker, sharing the podium with the noted anti-slavery activist Daniel O’Connell.  In a letter Douglas wrote from Ireland in 1845, he said, “. . . people here in Ireland measure and esteem men according to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the colour of their skin.”  This is also the closing line of the play, and for history buffs, the similarity to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream that one day in America, people will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin,” resonates in a deeply stirring manner.

Writer-performer Donal O’Kelly and performer Sorcha Fox give absolutely stunning performances as they play multiple roles, transporting audiences to the decks, cabins, and holds of The Cambria, complete with the ominous fog of the North Atlantic.  Due to an foot injury Fox suffered after coming to Harare, making it difficult for her to walk, last minute adjustments had to be made with the two seated throughout the two-act play.  If I hadn’t been told this I would never have known.

The essence of good drama, as with good writing, is getting an audience to suspend disbelief.  O’Kelly and Fox are masters at doing this.  The transformation as O’Kelly switches from Douglas, a black character, to the slave owner Dodd, is nothing short of magical, and Fox plays adult and child characters effectively, and even comes across credibly when she’s representing male characters.

Only someone with a heart of granite could sit through this performance without being moved – to tears even – so profound is the story and so flawless the acting.  This is Irish drama at its very best; great script, good direction, but most of all, top level performances by two of Ireland’s finest.  The Cambriahas played to rave reviews on the New York stage, and now it has come to Harare and HIFA.  Five stars to the performers, five stars to the material, and thanks to the organizers who had the foresight to bring this great play here.

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during...
Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during the 1963 March on Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Fulfill the Dream by Honoring the Dreamer

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In death, as in life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood heads and shoulder above those around him.
In death, as in life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood heads and shoulder above those around him.

In three days, on January 21, the nation prepares for the inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President, for his second term. At the same time, we will pause throughout the country to honor a man whose efforts were instrumental in many ways in this historic inauguration. January 21 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a holiday marked every year on the third Monday in January since 1986, and since 2000, recognized in all 50 states.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a Baptist preacher. He followed his father’s profession, becoming a pastor in a church in the south, ministering to the needs of a then-segregated black community. The Montgomery bus boycott, sparked by Rosa Parks arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white male passenger, King became the leader of the national civil rights movement, and in 1957 helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements in moving the cause of civil rights forward in the United States, and honored around the world, he is best remembered for his historic “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, before an audience of 250,000 civil rights supporters at the close of the March on Washington. After the 1963 event, King turned his attention to a focus on poverty and the war in Vietnam, which he vehemently opposed.

In Memphis, Tennessee to support that city’s garbage workers in their strike for better wages and working conditions, King was slain by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968. His death touched off riots around the country in some of the worst racial violence the country has ever seen.

King’s words in Washington in 1963 are as appropriate today as they were then, given the economic and social problems plaguing the nation over 150 years after the end of the Civil War. We are still a nation of haves and have-nots, with millions going to bed at night with empty stomachs, without shelter, and deprived of the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ The promissory note written by the Founding Fathers when they drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is still due for many. As King said, “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir to.” We should take careful note of what he said after that, though. “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds . . . let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”

English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his &qu...

His dream, the American dream, remains largely a dream. To honor his legacy, it is up to us, each of us, to continue to work to make that dream a reality. Even though we might have to face the ‘difficulties of today and tomorrow,’ we should still cling to that dream, a dream that is ‘deeply rooted in the American dream.’

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