Taking stock of the “Dream” 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death

World Today

King’s speech about having a dream has become one of the most famous in the world. He delivered it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial here in Washington and it became a defining moment of the civil rights movement.

But the anniversay of King’s death comes amid a resurgence of White Supremacy, and a controversial police shooting in California of an unarmed black man. CGTN’S Jim Spellman takes a look at the state of King’s dream 50 years after his death.

In his most famous speech, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his hopes for the future.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he said in his most famous speech.

But 50 years after his death, has the dream become a reality?

“That’s me,” said Sandra Wilson as she looked at a old photograph of herself. As a young woman, she watched MLK preach at her church.

“When you finished hearing him, you wanted to fly,” she recalled. “Your heart was lightened.”

As the civil rights movement of the 1960s gripped the nation, Wilson attended a historically black university, ready to take advantage of the progress being made by African Americans. Then in 1968 King was assassinated.

“I just couldn’t stop crying,” she said. “I just felt everything was lost. This man was gone. It was such a sad, defeated feeling but even though it was defeating, it made me a stronger person.”

In the years since King’s death, Wilson has had a successful career as a teacher and she’s raised a family. She has seen progress, such as the election of Barack Obama as the first African American U.S. President.

“When I look at my grandchildren, that’s all they know really is that Barack Obama was the president,” she says. “They don’t know the segregation, they don’t know these kinds of things. I think that Martin Luther King would be astounded, and so proud of Barack Obama.”

But there are still huge gaps between blacks and whites in the U.S. In 1968, black unemployment was 6.7 %. In 2017, it was 7.5%–more than twice the rate for whites.

Blacks are 2.5 times as likely as whites to live in poverty and almost half as likely to have a college degree, and African Americans are more than 6 times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

These troubling facts, plus the rise of the racist “Alt Right”, have Sandra Wilson concerned that the dream may be fading.

“I’m scared,” she said. “I’m not just scared for black people–I’m scared for the nation.”

But radio host Joe Madison is more optimistic. The man known on the air as ‘The Black Eagle’ sees undeniable gains in his community.

“Do we have more CEOs?,” he asks. “Do we have more people in colleges and universities? Do we have housing opportunities? The answer is yes.”

But he says some whites feel threatened by the progress African Americans have made.

“If black folk make certain progress, do white people lose?” he asks. “Really? When has that ever happened? So it’s not a zero sum game we are playing!”

A new wave of young black activists gives Madison hope that King’s dream will one day be achieved in full.

“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I’m more so than I’ve been in a long time.” 

Millions of African Americans adopted Dr. King’s dream as their own when they came of age. Now, they say, it’s time for the dream to live on in the next generation.

Nsenga Burton talks about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

CGTN’s Mike Walter talks with Nsenga Burton of The Burton Wire about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.