I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." -- Martin Luther King Jr., Aug. 28, 1963
Forty-eight years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. stood in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln, looked out over a crowd of 250,000 people and told America about a dream he had.
That year, 1963, marked the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and King had come to remind the nation and the world that "one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free ... One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land."
Last week a memorial to King opened on the National Mall where throngs had gathered to hear his most famous speech. It was to have been formally dedicated today, but the ceremony was postponed because of Hurricane Irene's assault on the East Coast.
King is the first non-president and first person of color to be so honored.
By design, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial embodies that "March on Washington" address, particularly symbolizing the line: "With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."
Of course, the mountain metaphor, used throughout black history in songs and sermons, also was expressed at the end of that speech when King implored his listeners, "from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And, I can't forget that the night before he died, in a premonition of his own death, he proclaimed: "I've been to the mountaintop, and I've seen the Promised Land."
Although I haven't seen it in person, the $120 million monument is striking, and it will have significant meaning for generations to come.
But I wonder what King, a humble, unpretentious man, would think of it. More especially I wonder what he would think of us -- this nation of ours -- and how far we've come in almost five decades since that momentous day in 1963.
Most assuredly he would notice some progress in the breaking down of some legal racial and ethnic barriers. But he also would recall on that hot August day 48 years ago, there were people of all faiths and denominations: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Greek Orthodox. Considering the religious divide in the country today, fanned by self-serving politicians, he might determine that America, despite its sick condition of segregation at the time, was more united then than it is today.
Remembering back to that day, the march had brought together a true cross-section of America --white and black; the rich and the poor; the literati and the illiterate; power brokers and the powerless; union workers and sharecroppers. It was such a gripping scene that the whole world had to take note.
Looking over the country today, King might ask, "What happened?"
Surely he would notice the high unemployment rate, especially among blacks and Hispanics, and he might call for resurrection of some of those signs carried during the march that demanded "JOBS FOR ALL NOW!"
Most certainly he would be proud of something he never could have imagined then: The person who will speak at the dedication of a national memorial to him will be the country's first black president.
Despite his pride in that historic achievement, King might want to challenge this president on a couple of things, including the fact that the nation is engaged in two wars and at least one of them was an arrogant mistake.
The new memorial will be a constant reminder to the country of a time when our nation was in need of healing, and a time when many united (for a while, at least) to make a difference.
Now positioned in the company of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and the memory of thousands of war heroes, the image of King stands 30 feet tall.
It is as if he is keeping his watchful eye on the nation he loved and helped change for the better.
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty ...