Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Content of Their Character

Yesterday, just after I picked Jack up at school, NPR ran the entire tape of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his I Have a Dream speech. You can see a video recording of the speech here.

It's strange to think that in August, that tape will be 50 years old. Just think how far we've come since then.

Then, think how far we have yet to go.

Dr. King's speech is a tour de force of effective rhetoric, and I taught it as such in English 102 classes. Listening to Dr. King's voice yesterday in my car, I found myself speaking with him, saying his words out loud.

Jack noticed, and asked if I knew the words. I told him that the words were so important that yes, I did know a lot of them.

Jack is not at an age where he can appreciate the metaphor, the biblical references, the historical importance and context, the high and powerful rhetoric, though he is studying the Civil Rights Movement in school. Phrases like "victims of creative suffering" and "police brutality" and "valley of despair" and "oasis of freedom and justice" don't mean much to him.


I grew up in the south. I never saw the segregated water fountains or lunch counters or schools, but I saw segregated neighborhoods, I heard racist comments uttered freely and without thought, I saw news coverage of the Greensboro massacre in November, 1979, when I was almost 13 and attending a mostly-white private school.

I lived two hours from Greensboro. That massacre was in my back yard and an entire world away. I couldn't understand the politics and hate surrounding the massacre, but I did know that violence wasn't right, killing people wasn't right, wearing sheets or swastikas wasn't right.

That much I did understand.

My generation, however, saw far less of the dehumanizing ugliness of racism than my parent's generation, in large part because of the work and words of Dr. King and many others who stood up instead of by.

Jack's generation is growing up with an African-American president whose second inauguration will take place on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and regardless of how you or I may feel about his politics, President Obama sets a powerful example of democracy's ability to move forward and expand its freedom and power to make true its belief that all men are created equal.

But Klan membership is growing. The ugliness isn't gone.


What is the content of our nation's character? How will we be judged? Will we ever truly be able to sing, "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty. We're free at last"?

One day.


  1. Thank you, Once again your writing is elegant and full of clarity. And hope. These are dark times in many ways-and you have lit a candle.

  2. You write with such eloquence, Susan. This is beautiful. I'm constantly saddened by people's intolerance of difference. The more of us who stand up for equality and equity, and tolerance, the better it will become, hopefully.

  3. Susan, there's a reason I usually delete emails from my uncle without opening them. And there's a reason my sister calls me "Scotty Don't". (If you're like me and have never watched an Austin Powers movie, you probably won't get the reference, but "Scotty Don't" is a person who almost always says the wrong thing at the wrong time.) And there's a reason I have the following pin on one of my boards: "There are some things that are better left unsaid, but you can bet your sweet a** I am going to say them anyway."

    I opened the email, and was deeply offended by a rascist "joke." Normally I ignore things like this, but couldn't do it this time.

    I work for a black woman, who is a true southern lady, with charm and grace, and a wicked sense of humor. And I love her dearly.

    We have come a long way, but there's still a bit of road to travel... I pray for "one day."

  4. Thank you so much for commenting, ladies. UNCbballfan, thank you for not letting the "joke" go.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!