Pursuing the Dream



Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 1963. The Associated Press

By Colleen Loggins

With a day off of school and work, it may be easy to lose sight of what Martin Luther King Jr. Day is all about.

However, Jennifer Hamer, acting director of African-American Studies, along with other University faculty members, said that people tend to think about holidays as merely a day off. Hamer added that people should especially not lose sight of a holiday meant to celebrate diversity.”Martin Luther King is the symbol of that diversity and of the potential of what the nation can become, and that is why the day is important,” Hamer said. “He inspired a world to pay attention; to move in a different direction – the direction of justice and equality.”

Hamer said she believes the holiday is important for everyone in the United States, and not just one group of people.

“This isn’t just about African-Americans or black people,” she said. “It’s about humanity, and I think that’s why this holiday is so different than the others.”

Clarence Lang, assistant professor of African-American Studies, said that while it is important to honor Martin Luther King Jr., students need to remember him not just as the man who gave the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, but as an evolving individual.

In some ways, there are three different Martin Luther Kings, Lang said. The first King was the 26-year-old newcomer to Montgomery, Ala., who was thrust into the leadership position at the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This marked the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Lang said. King had no prior political experience and was chosen to be the leader because he had no close ties to the city of Montgomery. In the event that the boycott failed, he could simply move and his family would not be greatly affected, Lang added.

“Often times when people discuss Martin Luther King Jr., and when his birthday comes around, the King we often get is the second King,” Lang said.

The second King was the man who gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and led the March on Washington, Lang added.

The third King was a man who, in 1967, had fallen out of favor with many of his former allies when he came out strongly against the Vietnam War, Lang said. King believed the war was immoral and was siphoning resources away from the war on poverty in the United States. This King was assassinated in 1968.

“I think that it is important that we honor King, in addition to remembering that he was an evolving individual,” Lang said. “When we honor King, we can’t be so selective. We have to think about that King that challenged inequality. Not just ending Jim Crow, but economic inequalities, too.”

It is for these reasons that many find the holiday so inspiring.

“I think it is a really good tradition to honor a man who was really a pioneer in civil rights, who did a lot to better this country,” said Amanda Marshall, freshman in LAS. “We all owe him a really big debt for everything he did.”