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

By James Echols | Go to book overview

Introduction

James Echols

I will never forget a trip I took as a teenager with my family to visit relatives in Atlanta. On the date of our departure, as my adult cousin was escorting us to an airport gate, she stopped abruptly and asked an African American man coming in the other direction to greet her cousins. At that point, this individual for whom she worked at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King Jr., came over, shook our hands, and said a few words before continuing on his way. What a thrill it was to touch the dreamer. In this volume, we all do.

In a 1961 commencement address at Lincoln University, Dr. King declared that “America is essentially a dream.” Thus, his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered two years later, both extended and intended to expand the American tradition of dreaming. On one level, it implicitly extended a tradition that includes the seventeenth-century Puritan dream of freedom from religious persecution, the eighteenth-century colonists' dream of political independence, and the nineteenth-century immigrants' dream of economic opportunity. For the vast majority of Americans, religious freedom, political independence, and economic opportunity have constituted central aspects of the “American dream.”

On another level, the speech explicitly intended to expand the American tradition of dreaming in the twentieth century by calling all Americans fully to embrace and include racial and ethnic equality as a key aspect of the American dream. Delivered just nine

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