On Aug. 28, 1963, some quarter-million Americans, black and white, marched on Washington in support of the civil rights bill then pending in Congress.
Near the end of the day, a hush fell over the crowd as the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgomery, Ala., climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and turned to speak.
“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. …
“But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. …”
The Rev. King, whose birthday we observe with today’s holiday, spoke that day of his dream.
“I have a dream,” he said, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
We have yet to enter the color-blind promised land of the Rev. King’s vision, make no mistake. But the way we know we’ve made progress is that — as Nevadans expressed their support for or opposition to a given presidential candidate in Saturday’s party caucuses, the statement “Because he’s black” or “Because she’s a woman” or even “Because he’s a Mormon” was seldom the first reason given.
In many cases, such reasons never even made the list.
That may sound like small progress. In fact, given the usual glacial pace of social and political change, for an entire nation to have come that far in 45 years is nothing short of remarkable.
There is still work to be done. But few would deny — on this anniversary of the Rev. King’s birth — that the nation has made great progress in expanding opportunity for all, and fulfilling the Rev. King’s dream.