Dream

“I have a dream … .” These are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous words, and the first words of a memorable speech. We are reminded of them today on this day, his day, a day that celebrates his legacy.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…” (1963 at the Lincoln Memorial Civil Rights March).

dream [dreem] noun, images during sleep, an involuntary vision, an aspiration; goal; aim, something of an unreal beauty, charm, or excellence. dictionary Origin mid-13c. sensations passing through a sleeping person’s mind, W.Gmc. draugmas , deception, illusion. O.E. joy, mirth, also music. Ideal or aspiration (1931) from something of dream-like beauty or charm (1888). etymology

Dr. King no doubt chose this word purposefully. It may have started as a kernel from a vision, maybe while asleep or awake, but its effect is not of an illusion, but of an aspiration. An ideal. Choosing to use it as a noun is significant. It is a dream. A dream of a tangible outcome. Something that could happen. Something that would happen, even. And he chose the present tense, making it a declaration: I have a dream. Bringing to mind Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence. For Dr. King was describing for all of us, not just a dream, but the American Dream. His was a message of peace for all. That dream, that vision of equality, is what he shared that day in Washington in front of people of different colors, of different faiths, of different notions.

Peter Jennings, in a 2003 report for ABC-News, describes how days before the march, President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy had concerns. It was then that Dr. King told a crowd in Detroit, “I have a dream this evening that one day we will recognize the words of Jefferson that all men are created equal … I have a dream this afternoon.” Words that he would later use in Washington. Peter Jennings observes how, “King had spoken of the dream many times. But now the world was listening, and he uttered the lines that have quoted countless times since.” Jennings continues, “As soon as the speech was over, King and the other leaders were taken to the White House to see the president. It was a moment that had great meaning. A Dream in Progress. But America did not change overnight.”

“I’m working on a dream, though sometimes it feels so far away, I’m working on a dream, And I know it will be mine someday.” Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics, written in 2008, convey the dream of the everyman. Delivered with a positive outlook, it is a picture of the American Dream, too.

Dr. King concludes his “I Have a Dream” speech, depicting:

“An America where his children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual. Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

Today we remember to keep the dream alive.

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