Martin Luther King, Jr.-The American Dream: A Reality of A Figment of the Imagination?

Tim Eggerding

Tim Eggerding

By Erin Calandriello

Imagine dancing, singing, rejoicing, hundreds of blacks and whites clapping and laughing, and an original Freedom Rider speaking – this was the scene Sunday night at Foellinger Great Hall at a gathering celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a gathering of the black and white communities to celebrate a great man, a man who had a vision. He imagined a world where common men were at peace with one another and they could achieve the Horatio Alger myth of meritocracy.

Rev. Ben Cox, one of the 13 Freedom Riders, was the keynote speaker at the event and he entitled his speech, “Making the Dream a Reality.” The audience listened to his powerful words along with the musical performance of the Salem, Missouri Baptist Church choir.

Throughout his speech Cox pointed out how King’s dream of ending racism and segregation and uniting our nation has made progress but is not completed. He discussed how racism exists and still persists in society in several forms. Whether it’s racial prejudice in a personal encounter, the segregation of blacks and whites in churches or the lack of blacks in political positions – racism still divides the United States.

Cox reminded the audience that “Thomas Jefferson had sexual freedom with Sally Hemmings for 38 years,” proving that racism had engulfed America from the beginning. He also showed that America has miles to travel before it reaches racial equality. He emphasized the relatively small population of blacks in American government.

Still, Cox said, the black community should be more active. Citing the November election, he said the 9 million blacks were not registered to vote and should not complain.

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“I’ve seen whites and blacks beaten knife sticks to vote,” he said. “So why are we sitting on our fannies and not voting?”

The crowd exploded in response to Cox’s words when he declared that, “no one should control another human being.” Yet, this cannot occur if “people do not push for education and become somebody.” Even with an education, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “intelligence is not enough, intelligence and character are the true goals of education.”

University Interim Chancellor Richard Herman, who also spoke, said, “Knowledge must have a moral dimension” and “the value of social justice must be at the heart of the mission at University of Illinois.”

Cox agreed with Herman and concluded the energy-filled night by encouraging cooperation.

“Let us keep working toward brotherhood and sisterhood,” he said.