Experts on topics currently in the news
Southwestern University sociology professor shares her thoughts on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech
Aug. 28, 1963, marks the 50th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The speech – which was largely unscripted − was given to a crowd of some 200,000 people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and is credited with helping lead to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“At the time, the speech served as an inspirational shot in the arm for those who were engaged in the dangerous and difficult work of the civil rights movement,” says Maria Lowe, a professor of sociology at Southwestern whose research focuses on the origins of the civil rights movement.
Lowe notes that just two months before King gave this speech, another civil rights activist − Medgar Evers − had been assassinated in Jackson, Miss. King gave the speech as part of a daylong March on Washington that also included singing by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and speeches by actor Charlton Heston, NAACP president Roy Wilkins, and John Lewis, a future U.S. Representative from Georgia.
“The march itself showed movement personnel that there was some nationwide interracial support for their efforts,” said Lowe, who has interviewed some of the march participants. “It also showed people (particularly whites) in places outside of the South that this movement was also about them as Americans.”
King gave the speech during the year that marked the 100th anniversary of the year in which Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. King began his speech with references to that proclamation as well as to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. But then he went on to note that the country had yet to achieve the lofty goals stated in those documents.
“Every time I hear or read this particular speech, I am struck by how superb and brilliant it is,” Lowe said. “I get chills because it serves as an important symbolic reminder that this country has indeed come a long way in terms of race relations and racial discrimination over the past 150 years.”
Lowe notes, however, that even in 2013, we still have a long journey ahead. Some of her current research focuses on how comfortable students of color feel on today’s college campuses.
“We will not reach our lofty goals of achieving racial equality and ending racial oppression unless we work together in sustained and meaningful ways across differences,” Lowe said.
Lowe may be reached at 512-863-1936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.