Half a century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and challenged this country to live up to the promise it made in its founding documents, that the country had been renewed through the Civil War, but which remained unfilled in that summer of 1963. In the speech remembered today primarily because of the vision he laid out for this country, Dr. King also made a stark declaration:
“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. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The country, led by a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress took up Dr. King’s challenge to make good on America’s promise with the passage of legislation that wiped away the last vestiges of legal segregation and discrimination in the United States.
Dr. King’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet because he would not settle for anything less than full payment on the promise, or for anything less than the full realization of his dream.
Today, when President Barack Obama will take the oath to begin his second term in office, he stands as living testimony to how far the United States has traveled in the fifty years since Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. As we have seen throughout President Obama’s first term, the dream is not yet fully realized. Hatred is still alive in the country.
But, as then-Senator Barack Obama noted in 2008, continuing the work of making Dr. King’s dream come true falls to each of us:
“Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice….”
Today, when President Obama renews his oath to the country, let every American renew our pledge to each other to be the bearers of Dr. King’s dream. Because, his dream is the American Dream.