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The Dream That Came True

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Posted on Jan 15, 2012
AP / Jacquelyn Martin

By Eugene Robinson

He would be an elder statesman now, a lion in winter, an American hero perhaps impatient with the fuss being made over his birthday. At 83, he’d likely still have his wits and his voice. Surely, if he were able, he would continue to preach, and to pray—and to dream.

For the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., dreaming was not optional. It was a requirement of citizenship to envision a fairer, more prosperous nation no longer shackled by racism and poverty. It was a duty to imagine a world no longer ravaged by senseless wars. His most famous speech was less an invitation to share his epic dream than a commandment.

In these sour, pessimistic times, it is important to remember the great lesson of King’s remarkable life: Impossible dreams can come true.

This is not a partisan message; King was every bit as tough on Democrats as Republicans. His activism even transcended ideology. His call for social justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War were rightly seen as liberal, but his insistence on the primacy of faith and family was deeply conservative. His birthday is a national holiday because his words and deeds ennoble us all.

Thinking about King’s legacy reminds me that this is hardly the first time our society has been bitterly divided and fearful of an uncertain future. When he led the 1963 March on Washington and gave his indelible “I Have a Dream” speech, many Southern whites, including officials, were still determined to resist racial integration by any means necessary. Many black Americans were fed up, no longer willing to wait patiently for the rights promised them under the Constitution.


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We were inured to television images that today would be shocking. Police dogs turned loose on peaceful protesters. Columns of smoke rising from cities across the land following King’s assassination.

As he predicted, King did not live to reach the mountaintop. But his leadership—and that of so many others in the civil rights movement—set us on a path that changed the nation in ways that once seemed unimaginable. Racism, sexism and all the other poisonous -isms have not been eradicated, but they have been dramatically reduced and marginalized. It is difficult for young people to believe that overt discrimination—“You can’t have that job because you’re black” or “I’m going to pay you less because you’re a woman”—used to be seen as normal.

Today, the nation is suffering what I see as a crisis of confidence. Economic globalization and advances in productivity have hollowed out the U.S. manufacturing sector, eliminating millions of blue-collar jobs. For the first time, parents have to worry whether their children’s standard of living will decline rather than improve. Demographic change is about to make this a nation without a white majority; by the middle of the century, we’ll be an increasingly diverse collection of racial and ethnic minorities—held together, even more than in the past, by the ideals of the nation’s founding documents.

We’re struggling to climb out of the worst recession in decades. We’re deeply in debt. Most of us agree on the need for a social safety net but not on how to structure it or how to pay for it. Our political system is sclerotic if not dysfunctional. The last few elections have not produced a consensus on the way forward. The next won’t, either.

I consider myself fortunate that when I’m feeling pessimistic about all of this, I’m able to visit the new King Memorial that was dedicated in October. The towering statue of King looks out toward the Jefferson Memorial, honoring the man whose stirring words now apply to all Americans, not just a few. Behind King is the Lincoln Memorial, a tribute to a leader who shepherded the nation through days much darker than these.

The plaza surrounding King’s statue opens up to the Tidal Basin as if to demonstrate how our nation, at its best, embraces possibility.

The first time I visited the memorial, I ran into former Sen. George Allen from Virginia. He and I disagree on almost everything—and since he’s running for office again, I’m sure we’ll be on opposite sides of many issues. But on a crystalline morning, we were able to stand together, awed by King’s moral vision and humbled by his challenge: We can be better. We must. We will.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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By balkas, January 17, 2012 at 9:10 am Link to this comment

not every politico in the world is about equally corrupt, deceptive, dissembling, etc.
however, in usa you have only one political party or, if it makes you feel better, two wings of one goose, but espousing exact
same ideology when it comes to warfare, support of a criminal state like israel, personal supremacism [fascism, nazism right
to own a person], plutocracy, meritocracy, etc.
because ALL congress people, cia/fbi agents, army echelons, judges, MSM columnists, large shareholders share and execute
this ideology to a dot, you have there also the highest ‘elitical’ corruption, lying, etc. in the world.
the said ‘elite’ in most european lands cannot get away with so much warfare, lying, corruption as does the ‘elite’ in usa [read
the worst people among us]
and the sole reason for it is the fact that in each european land there is an opposing ideology to the supremacist one and
which is also represented in parliaments and guess by which political party? but, of course, one demonized by nearly 98% of
americans and not just usa ‘elite’.
probably 99.999% of blacks voted fro obama and thus the ‘eliete’. so, what was the use of complaining by MLK?
none, whatever. it actually caused even worsenings for not only most blacks but also whites and hispanics.
so beware of individualistic saviorism. we’ve had jesus, mohammed, moses, obama, MLT and may others and we are near
extinction and especially blacks of afrika.
wars for poverty is increasing by day; that includes also american blacks.
and i expect that 98% of blacks would still vote for obama and thus supremacist ideology that caused them to be slaves, later
freed from that hell to a greater hell; such as lynchings, discrimination, high unemployment, ghettos, etc.
MLK probably meant well! but also very naive!
however, i think 98% of americans think like you. so, expect only worsenings for them! which, of course is not a bad thing
after all as every bear, whale, gorilla, afrikan would be ecstatic over it. and i am with them!

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By christian96, January 17, 2012 at 12:11 am Link to this comment

Dr. King was a Christian minister.  I just read
in an article on another site that one of
the Republician candidates speaking before a conservative Christian group in South Carolina
said, “The Bible supports private ownership and
a sound economy.”
Considering the barrage of mortgage failures and
the condition of our financial ship, I’d say America
is sinking and sorely lacking Biblical support.  If
alive, I believe Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King would
support that conclusion.

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, January 16, 2012 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment

If there had not been a Malcolm X the corporate state wouldn’t celebrate its MLK Day.

The Violence of “Nonviolence”:

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, January 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment

Well… at least half of the comments here are from nitwits. God knows what they’ll say next, god forbid they have some pet pevee someone accidentally stumbles upon.

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By Peter Knopfler, January 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment

BY OBAMA"Indefinite detention says so Hiding in Hawaii
last Day of the Year signs it for none to see;: SHAME
BLACK FACE white Mother took your Rights away!
RON PAUL ONLY HOPE NOW the rest are warmongers profits
before people, corps first. Well you you can READ.No
matter how much anger I have I could not piss on Obama
like He did to Martin KING`S PRINCIPLES=signing that
NDAA means more blacks in JAIL!HALF BREED HAVING FUN!

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By Michael Clifford, January 16, 2012 at 5:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We MUST believe in the good. We must stand up and fight for it. Yet, how hard it is, how long have the baby boomers grown out of practise? All their lives they have been distracted with individualism and getting, now they need to amass and share. Now you are old, this is the time to meet up and fight for a world that we have virtually lost and for a world that is a better one than the one we have lost. How strange is that? There is no longer any choice…

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By Peter Knopfler, January 16, 2012 at 5:18 pm Link to this comment

There are hundreds of the same statues in Communist
China, with Mao face, all they did for the King was
change Communist Chinese face to have negro features.
Shame DAY. Why did money bags Black people Athletes,
Musicians, politicians etc, Why COMMUNIST CHINA MADE
Memorial.Martin King was accused of Communism,Hounded
by FBI,gets shot to death, AND NOW COMMUNIST CHINA
MAKES MEMORIAL. Communist China where there are no
PRINCIPLES, Indefinite detention Bill of SLAVERY DAY
that let this happen. Poor MARTIN KING! STEPPED ON

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By cpb, January 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm Link to this comment

Any thoughtful reflection on King; words and messages,
would necessarily make this a day of mourning.

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By ElkoJohn, January 16, 2012 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment

When you stand before the statute of MLK,
ask yourself what is to become of the minority folks (who are the majority)
in our prison system.
Ask yourself what is to become of the poor folks
who can’t afford the money to find/assemble/submit
or take legal action in the case of missing documents
in order to be able to vote.
The System has found new ways to suppress minorities,
including putting Obama at the helm.

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By LocalHero, January 16, 2012 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment

Balkas, King did not “forget” to form a political party, you idiot.

Unlike you, he was aware that politics would always be corrupted, divided and re-directed from its original purpose. He was wise enough to know that real change would never come politically - only culturally - which is why he was such a danger and was dispatched.

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By The Prisoner, January 16, 2012 at 2:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Its disturbing to read the comments of others especially when they mention how Dr. King would have reacted. We honestly, don’t know if Dr. King would have denounced Barack Obama or would have embraced him.  I am willing to bet that he would have embraced him because he would have known the pressures that engulf our President everyday.  Dr. King would realize that he would have been made a scapegoat on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.  He would have realized that his personal failings would have made bigger news than that of white males because that’s the way it goes.

His faults will always be magnified while we excuse those of George Bush Jr. (alcoholism), Ronald Reagan (early onset of Alzheimers and bad acting), and Richard Nixon (too many to mention).  Even today, many choose to disparage him instead of focusing on those who are still alive who are destroying this country.  The one thing that they don’t understand is that Dr. King knew this and that’s why his most famous speech is the “I have a dream” speech.  He knew that dreams can only be achieved by personal achievement and sacrifice.  His path to that dream was cut off, and for the rest of us, who benefited by not having to live under the conditions he fought against; the dream is becoming a nightmare.  Because we pretend we understand and we judge; forgetting that we are not fit to carry this man’s shoes.

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By adc14, January 16, 2012 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment

The statue is an obscenity—King would hate it.

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By anonymous, January 16, 2012 at 8:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

MLK famously said there can be no real justice without ECONOMIC justice.

Obama has insured that economic INjustice remains the trademark of our oligarchy.

MLK would not be an Obama fan.  It’s far more likely that MLK would be leading Cornel West and other black dissidents in the chorus against our fraudulent and traitorous POTUS.

Mr. Robinson continues to embarrass himself as a shill for the worst Democratic president in modern history.


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By Memory Stick, January 16, 2012 at 8:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Did Mr. Robinson point out that the Statue was made in China?

I ask because I no longer have the time to read his partisan pablum…Just curious…

Oh it goes well with the New CA Bay area bridge, built in Shanghai.

PT Barnum would be blushing…

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By prisnersdilema, January 16, 2012 at 8:13 am Link to this comment

A dream that still remains just a dream, that is used to provide comfort, and an
opiate like idea, to keep that masses cuing up for hope.

While this nation continues to sink deeper into despair. With more African
americans, behind bars than any other group.

Mr. King would have protested this countries foreign policy, that is based on
murder, and the forceable rape of foreign governments around the world so that
corporate America can poison, and exploit, and practice slavery to feed the greed
of a few sociopaths.  And that is why, there was no place for Dr. King in America’s
future. Nor for JFK, Bobby Kennedy, John Kennedy Jr., Paul Wellstone, Mel
Carnahan, John Tower, John Heinz and many others…

But If Mr. King were alive, today he would be leading protests against this
government and Barak Obama’s presidency and his continued aggression against
the constitution, and corporate America’s injustice against all of us.

That would have ultimately forced Dr. King into incarceration, and prison, where
he would continue to protest against those that run this country.

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By balkas, January 16, 2012 at 8:04 am Link to this comment

MLK forgot to form a political party. he used only supplication. and look what
happened to poor people in usa. saviorism is also an ism. so is americanism. and it
always prevails.

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By mrfreeze, January 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment

Dr. King was an incredible force in modern American life. No one has embodied the true nature of our democratic values than he did.

It’s still incredibly ironic to me that he’s been turned into a white man by that monstrosity called a monument. I know, I know, I’m being an asshole, but I can’t stand looking at it. It’s as if the “powers-that-be” are saying “F you” to everything he stood for.

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By culheath, January 15, 2012 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment

As a white man I am much freer today because of Dr King and I cannot but thank and laud him for his work and courage. To me, his personal frailties only serve to remind us even more deeply how much he was able to overcome in order to bear witness to a better world for all of us.

All men and woman have flaws, but few manage to transcend them for the greater good.

To have lived your life as an inspiration to millions of others…what more can be asked of any human?

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By gerard, January 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm Link to this comment

We can be better, I agree—and we must be better.
But first we have to stop being as we are in many respects—self-satisfied, unfair, unsympathetic, aggressive, self-proud, fearful of others, content with excessive wealth in the face of economic injustice and ruinous poverty. The way we are now—divided against each other and against the world—isn’t working and won’t work—ever. One wonders how much longer it will take for the truth to sink in.

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