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. 

I have a dream today! 

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 

I have a dream today! 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. 

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. 

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: 

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, 

From every mountainside, let freedom ring! 

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. 

Bates College Professor Charles Nero said he believes King’s vision is slowly becoming reality, but “I’m also well aware that we live in a country, especially after the past week, . . . in which there are people who challenge that and who do not want that to be the norm.” Photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Bates College Professor Charles Nero grew up in the segregated South, experiencing Jim Crow firsthand.

One of his more vivid memories, he said, is of visiting his pediatrician, whose office was required to have two waiting rooms: one marked “White” and one marked “Colored.”

His doctor was one of the few in New Orleans who saw both Black and white patients, he said.

Nero reflected on the portion of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in which the civil rights leader says he dreamed that his four 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.”

King went on to say he dreamed of a day when “little black boys and back girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Nero said his two sons live now in a time and place where that seems possible.

“I notice that my children have an ability to have friends across racial lines in ways that I did not,” he said. “And I see a sensitivity among their teachers that all of their children be treated fairly, with kindness and with love,” he said. “I see my children’s willingness to embrace children of different races and ethnic backgrounds. I see those children of different races and other ethnic backgrounds would like to embrace my children. And so, in that sense, I definitely see that as part of King’s prophecy.”

But Nero said this country has not summited the mountaintop of King’s dream.

“I’m also well aware that we live in a country, especially after the past week, we live in a country in which there are people who challenge that and who do not want that to be the norm.”

Nero, who teaches rhetoric, film, screen studies and Africana (formerly African American Studies) at the private college in Lewiston, said King’s use of lyrics from the song “America” (My County ‘Tis of Thee) was deliberate and carries historical significance.

Penned by the Baptist Minister Samuel Francis Smith and first performed on July 4, 1831, it was embraced by abolitionists as a freedom song and it became a statement about citizenship and who belonged in America, Nero said.

“Part of it was the question and the issue of the enslaved,” he said.

Renowned journalist Ida B. Wells, who led an anti-lynching crusade that started in 1893 in Boston, used the song in an effort to denounce what she saw was going on in her country with the disenfranchisement of African Americans, Nero said.

King’s speech references the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery and the 14th Amendment, that defined citizenship and granted it to African Americans, which the practices of segregation denied, Nero said.

“So, when (King) refers to, ‘my country tis of thee,’ he’s calling on that tradition, America’s hymn, that African Americans must be included in America for their freedom and democracy and justice to have meaning,” Nero said.

“He’s saying the utopian vision is possible, but it’s only possible if we can all sing, “my country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.”

— Christopher Williams, Sun Journal

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