What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?
In his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King wrote, "We have waited for 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. . . ."
I sometimes wonder if the pace has quickened at all. I wonder, for example, what King's reaction would have been to the mayoral race in my hometown, Chicago, between Harold Washington and Bernard Epton. That race brought to the forefront the separatism that still exists in this nation. That race helped to shatter King's dream that the "civil rights movement would contribute more to the nation as a whole than just the eradication of racial injustice."
King's statements in his book "Why We Can't Wait" resonate today. Blacks are not struggling for vague rights but for concrete and prompt improvement in their living conditions. How have we profited by being able to send our children to integrated schools if black family income is insufficient to buy school clothes? What have we gained by being permitted to move to integrated neighborhoods if we can't afford the high rents? What advantage is there in knowing that we can be served in integrated restaurants and hotels if we are bound to the kind of financial servitude that will not allow us to take a vacation or go out to dinner.
The struggle for rights by blacks and other minorities is not for special privileges; we are not seeking charity. We do not wish to be welfare recipients any more than the next man. So, with equal opportunity must come the practical and realistic aid in exercising these rights. Giving a pair of shoes to a man who has not learned to walk is a cruel gesture. Special measures for the deprived have always been accepted in principle in the United States. Certainly blacks have been deprived.
In 1963, the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, a coalition of conscience changed the course of U.S. history. In 1963, black Americans fought for equality. It was a year of massive demonstrations, of sit-ins and speeches and street fighting, soul-searching in the suburbs and Psalm-singing in the jail cells.
In 1983, I would like Americans to continue to strive toward King's vision. We should not allow King's dream to "dry up like a raisin in the sun."