“I Have a Dream”

August 28, 2013

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington on August 28th, 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

I’ve learned some interesting things about that speech that many of you may already know, but thought I’d share them anyway.  The “I Have a Dream” speech was first delivered by King in June of 1963 during a march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit.  During the March on Washington two months later, King spoke from some prepared remarks.  Nine minutes into the speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who stood behind King, said to him, “Tell them about The Dream, Martin.”  King paused, put aside his prepared notes, and began “winging it,” drawing upon the speech delivered in Detroit.  The speech is widely considered the best speech of the 20th century and one of the greatest speeches of all time. 

If you’ve watched news reports this past week and have seen films of the march on Washington, you know that the march was as much about jobs as it was about freedom.  Today, the “freedom” King sought has been largely realized.  But, while blacks and minorities now have access to jobs they could only dream of in 1963, the jobs picture for blacks is as bleak as ever.  In July, the unemployment rate for blacks stood at 15.0%, double the 7.6% unemployment rate for whites.  In June, the unemployment rate for black teenagers was over 48%. 

Racism is less a factor now than the impact on blue-collar jobs that our “free” trade policy has had since 1963.  Manufacturing jobs were the next rung on the economic ladder that blacks aspired to in ’63.  But at the same time that barriers to climbing that ladder were broken down, that section of the ladder was cut off and cast aside, and the hopes of both blacks and whites alike, dependent on manufacturing jobs to live the American Dream, were dashed. 

I wonder what King would have to say about this situation?  What would he dream today?   Perhaps he’d dream of a new “civil rights” – the right of all people to participate as vital cogs in their economy instead of functioning as mere consumers to feed corporate bottom lines.  Perhaps he’d dream of a new economics, one dedicated to full employment and a sustainable, high standard of living for all people, instead of never-ending profit and population growth – a world in which economists had the courage to explore the truth instead of turning a blind eye to subjects that brought them derision in the past.  Where would we be if people like King showed the same cowardice in the face of criticism that economists have displayed in the wake of Malthus? 

Sadly, I’m afraid that all we can do for now is dream.