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Continuing America’s Most Famous Dream

A retrospective look at Martin Luther King Jr. and the legacy left by his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

By Amber Francis ‘22

In August of 1963, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his  famous “I Have a Dream” speech, calling for an end to racism in the United States. The speech was a defining moment in the civil rights movement and has since become one of the most famous speeches in America’s history. 

Over half a century has passed since King gave his famous speech. Today, many Americans view racism as a thing of the past: a concept that only exists in the confines of black-and-white photographs found in history textbooks, King’s dream long achieved. It is a sentiment that Michael Collins from the Department of English at Texas A&M University said is blatantly untrue, citing one of the most quoted lines in King’s speech: “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.”

“We have not even come close. The murders of people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are tragic evidence of the fact that people who look like King’s children are still not being judged by the content of their character,” Collins stated. “In fact, in 2020, fifty-seven years after Dr. King gave his speech at the 1963 March on Washington, his son Martin Luther King III felt the need to join a new march on Washington intended to highlight continuing racial injustices. The old saying is that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.”

Collins sees hope in the fact that, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, books about American racism flew off the shelves as people tried to educate themselves about this complex issue. But, according to Collins, change needs to be enacted not just on a personal level, but systemically. Collins points to a lack of education not just about racial issues, but about our government’s very foundation, and recommends that King’s speech and its relationship to the Constitution be intensively taught to all high school students.

“King’s speech is rooted in a deep understanding of the Constitution,” he explained. “The aforementioned killings and the effort made by a mob on Jan. 6 to stop a Constitutional process show that we are separated from King’s dream by a great deal of ignorance of the Constitution and of each other.”

King’s speech itself, for all of its outward straightforwardness, compresses so much historical, theological, philosophical, political, and rhetorical thought that Collins said it would be easy to build a section of a class, or even an entire course, around it. 

“I think that such sections and courses should be widely taught. And, just as It’s a Wonderful Life is shown at Christmas time, programs devoted to the many meanings of the speech should be broadcast on Martin Luther King Day,” Collins said. 

In an effort to honor King’s life and vision, the university holds the Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast. Its mission is to give Aggies a space to come together and discuss how King’s dream has been exacted in the past, how it is still relevant today, and how we as a society can not only continue, but enhance the progress already made. 

“With everything we’ve endured and seen in the past year, racial injustice and inequality included, this event allows us to examine how our past carries over into our future — and how we can control it,” explained Tiara Kinnebrew, a senior sociology major and MLK Director for the Division of Student Affairs’ Woodson Black Awareness Committee.

The annual event, organized by Kinnebrew, is going virtual this year, and includes a live interview with special guest Jane Elliott, a well-respected and longtime consistent voice in anti-racism and civil rights.

“Not only has she been an advocate for civil rights since Dr. King’s time, but she’s someone who isn’t afraid to tell it how it is,” Kinnebrew remarked. “She doesn’t shy away from difficult discussions that need to be had; conversations that are imperative, especially in such a time as we are in now.” 

The event isn’t merely a recount of history, but a chance to look towards the future with hopeful, determined eyes. 

“With this event, we hope to inspire those in our community and at Texas A&M to fight for a better future — not only for themselves, but for everyone,” Kinnebrew shared. “Everyone, regardless of background, career or interests, can benefit from what the MLK Breakfast has to offer this year.”