I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Future of Multicultural America

By James Echols | Go to book overview
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chapter 5
Keeping the Dream Alive

Dwight N. Hopkins

Martin Luther King Jr. is recognized as one of the greatest United States citizens, not only in this country but around the world. He has become synonymous with faith, love, justice, compassion, sacrifice, and witnessing on behalf and with those who struggle to benefit from the opportunities of America. In a very interesting way, the social context in which he lived and died parallel this season of profound crisis and uncertainty both in the United States and on the global stage. King was deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, a valiant effort to provide basic guarantees of liberty for U.S. citizens. In particular, he stood for the civil rights of black Americans who for too long had been relegated to the ranks of second-class citizen in a land where they had helped produced the wealth for elite families during the period of slavery.1

So too, today, we find both an attack on civil rights and a groundswell to sustain the movement's gains and advance them further. We only have to note the uproar around the University of Michigan's policy on affirmative action.2 I would submit that what is at stake here, just as it was in King's time, is not simply the admission of a few more black, brown, red, and yellow students. No, what is at stake is an entire philosophy of what America should be for all of its peoples. One philosophy holds that the nation should go back to a culture of rigid racial and ethnic asymmetry, similar to the period of slavery or at least like the period of de jure segregation. Another philosophy holds that, given the great mixture of different races and ethnic groups within the borders of

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