Just over 60 years ago, in August of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to the crowd of 250,000 who had gathered for that civil rights march. The entire speech lasted just over 16 minutes, and it was just over 1,600-words long. Here’s a portion of his speech.
“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right down in Alabama little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
“This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
It’s been more than three score years since that speech was given, and while our country has certainly made great strides in the last 60 years, I, for one, do believe that it is safe to say that King’s dream has yet to be realized. Let me illustrate.
The neighborhood in which my church is located was started as a “Whites only” neighborhood. Another neighborhood down the road was the Black neighborhood. In fact, as recently as the early 1980s, the former neighborhood was 100% White. While I am grateful that this is no longer the case, it was nevertheless the case in the recent past. King’s dream wouldn’t have included segregated neighborhoods.
Here are some other facts that lead me to believe that King’s dream is still yet to be realized.
As of 2019, the median wealth per family in the United States of America broke down as follows. For White families, the median wealth was $188,000 per family, while the median wealth for Black families was $24,000.
In 2019, 73% of White families owned their own homes, while only 42% of Black families owned their own homes.
Blacks make up only 13% of the total US population, but they make up 40% of the prison population.
In 2019, from the S&P 500 and the Fortune 500, which are the six or seven hundred largest companies in the US, only 5 of them—that’s less than one percent—only 5 of them were led by Black CEOs.
But statistics can sometimes be misleading. Let me share a couple of stories.
I am from South Carolina. I still attend my “home” church whenever I’m in South Carolina visiting my parents. Several years after joining this church in the late 1980s, I was told the story of a Black young lady who tried to join the church earlier in the 1980s.
As she was presented for membership at the church, there were vocal calls to reject her desire to join that church. To the pastor’s credit, he called out the naysayers and told them in no uncertain terms that rejecting someone for membership on the basis of race was sinful. My point isn’t that the pastor was brave (although brave he was). My point is that in the 1980s there were still “Christian” people who would publicly declare that it wrong for a Black person to join a White church.
While I now live in a different state and I’m no longer a member of that church, I thank God that there are now several Black families who are members of that once, all-White church.
And then there’s the story of another church in that same county as the previous church. This story took place in the early 2000s. I was responsible for planning outreach events for the church. We had a series of fall revival meetings coming up, so I thought it would be a good idea to have some type of outreach event to prepare ourselves for our revival meetings.
I decided on the idea of a block party. I ran the plan past a few church leaders, and they were onboard. So, they invited me to the next deacon’s meeting to share the plan with the remaining deacons and the lead pastor.
I still have the sheet that I passed out that night. I had five objectives for my proposed event. Here were my five objectives.
- To show the love of Jesus Christ in a practical way
- To give something back to [our] Community
- To foster racial unity
- To learn of unchurched people in our community
- To emphasize our upcoming revival
I shared those objectives with everyone who was gathered there that evening, and then, in a very animated way, I went on to share the plan in greater detail. I only talked for probably 10 or 15 minutes, but I was very excited about the plan.
Everyone listened patiently and politely until I was done. And then, I’ll never forget, one church leader spoke up. He said, with a bit of frustration and anger in his voice, “This is really all about number 3. Right?”
At first, I was a bit confused. I didn’t know what he meant by “number 3,” until I looked back down at my sheet. Objective #3, “to foster racial unity.”
So, I summoned up all the courage I had—after all, I was speaking to someone old enough to be my dad and someone who was recognized as a spiritual leader in the congregation—and I said, “This event is certainly about #3, or I wouldn’t have put it on the paper. But it’s not ‘all about’ #3. There are four other objectives on the paper.”
He didn’t like my answer, and he went on to say things like, “I’m not a racist, but they have their church, and we have ours.”
When he said, “they have their church, and we have ours,” I about blew a gasket, and I held up my Bible in my hand and said, “Show me where in this Bible it says, ‘they have their church, and we have ours.’ ”
[If you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, “they have their church, and we have ours” is NOT in the Bible! In fact, just the opposite of that statement is in the Bible.]
To be clear, I don’t hold any animosity against that man. To this day, I hold no animosity against him. He was in sin. Yes, he was. But the truth of the matter is that we’re all born into sin, and even after coming to faith in Christ, we are still subject to give ourselves over to sin.
The answer for that man, the answer for me, and the answer for everyone, is Jesus. Jesus died on the cross to free us from our sin. He died on the cross to rescue us from our sin. He died on the cross so that we could experience forgiveness for our sin. He died so that we can be one—Jew or Gentile, Black or White—that we can be one.
I share this example from that church because this was the early 2000s—not ancient history. I share these things because we sometimes think that these things don’t happen anymore. We think that we’ve moved beyond this. We think that because Jim Crow and the practice of redlining has been criminalized, that racism is a thing of the past.
I’m not trying to be unduly harsh. We, as a country, and we, as a church, are in a much better place than we were in 1963, but King’s dream is still yet to be realized. We as a people—not just churches in the deep South, but churches everywhere—and not just White people, but people from all ethnicities—we have a long way to go. Thank God that we’re not where we were, but we have a long way to go before we can say of racism and its ugly past, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we’re free at last.”