After the Dream: Black and White Southerners since 1965

After the Dream: Black and White Southerners since 1965

After the Dream: Black and White Southerners since 1965

After the Dream: Black and White Southerners since 1965

Excerpt

On March 25, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a crowd of more than twenty-five thousand onlookers from the imposing steps of the Alabama state capitol. As he returned to the city where Rosa Parks had precipitated the iconic bus boycott, the southern preacher turned national leader celebrated the wider demise of the Jim Crow system. Even in Alabama, where so many of the fiercest battles had been waged, segregation was, King proclaimed, “on its deathbed.” Building to a rousing climax, he declared that southern blacks were well on the way to achieving a society that was “at peace with itself.” “Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can stop us. We are moving to the land of freedom.”

One of King’s most memorable speeches, the Montgomery address has often been viewed as the culmination of the civil rights struggle. King spoke at the conclusion of the Selma-Montgomery march, a protest that would be remembered as one of the most successful of the era. After a decade of direct action, moreover, campaigners had achieved their two main goals—the desegregation of public accommodations and federal protection of black voting rights. observing these achievements, some standard movement histories even conclude with this rousing speech and the subsequent smooth passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In many ways, however, King’s Montgomery speech was a beginning, not an end. As the black leader noted, southern blacks were “moving” into new territory, yet their journey was far from over. While celebrating how much they had achieved, King was acutely conscious of the work that remained to be done. “The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one,” he asserted. “There are no broad highways to lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions.” He urged his supporters to march on “segregated schools until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past.” In addition, they should “march on poverty” and use their votes to change a political system that was still dominated by segregationists.

After the Dream examines the ongoing civil rights struggle in the years after 1965. In these years, the movement’s supporters still had much to do, particularly in the three key areas that King highlighted. In . . .

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