‘Every Valley Shall Be Exalted’

[imgbelt img=lifevote.jpg]Fifty years ago this week, Martin Luther King Jr. drew in part on the experiences and culture of rural African Americans to deliver his speech “I Have a Dream.” The iconic moment defined the civil rights era and still challenges us today.

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I asked my mother why, and she gave a simple answer: Some people did not want to be around Negroes because of the color of their skin. Impression made. That was in September 1957. I was 5.

At some level, I couldn’t understand why people would be like that. On another, I was becoming a witness to a continuing quest for racial justice that shaped our history and still moves in our present.

The shocking spectacle of racial apartheid that accompanied my growing up is something I’d rather forget, except for the lessons of courage, nonviolence, love and commitment to fundamental equality that ultimately made our nation a better place.

Now, in 2013, we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s intensely eloquent “I Have a Dream” speech. It is a brief speech that passionately cries for racial justice on the land where we live. It is a speech of rural origins that recognizes and prophetically demands an end to racism in countryside and city.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plane, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

King was a modern day Isaiah. On that hot August day in 1963, he called for people to change their hearts, to be the most fully human they could be, to banish the evil of racial hatred.

So much of the nation’s black history is tied to the land, and that rural history became an integral part of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement that emerged before World War II and re-emerged after the war. The first three decades of the 20th century were a period of increased awareness of African Americans, because of the great migration of blacks from the rural South to northern cities, accompanied by African American music, especially jazz.

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