“Is the Dream Fulfilled?”
January 20, 2014

On behalf of the entire Colorado State University community, I’m honored to welcome you as we celebrate the memory and legacy of a great American leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

This year, we also celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the most important years in the fight for civil rights in this country: 1964.

Fifty years ago this month, Dr. King published a newspaper column looking ahead at the year to come, and he talked about civil rights legislation that was then before Congress — legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The law, he wrote, “was born in the streets of Birmingham amid snarling dogs and the battering of fire hoses. It was fashioned in the jail cells of the South and by the marching feet in the North. It became the order of the day at the great March on Washington …” Those who were fighting for self-respect and human dignity, he said, would not be denied.

But even as he wrote those words, their struggle was far from ended.

Just a few months later, from May through July 1964, the campaign for civil rights saw one of its most dramatic chapters, as college students and activists faced off in Saint Augustine, Florida against the violent segregationist forces of the Ku Klux Klan, backed up by local law enforcement and the John Birch Society.

The Civil rights marchers in Saint Augustine endured violent attacks — “showers of bricks, bottles, and insults” (King’s own words) — as they “spoke and sang of their determination to be free.” Dr. King himself was arrested and hounded by death threats. The home of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference president was burned to the ground. June saw the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history after King’s close friend, Rabbi Israel Dresner, rallied Jewish leaders from across the country to support the peaceful demonstrations in Florida.

But this work — the suffering and abuse taken by the demonstrators in Saint Augustine — helped to finally break the filibuster in Washington against the Civil Rights Act, one of the longest filibusters in history, and it passed.

Today, 50 years later, as we come together to honor King’s leadership and memory, we ask ourselves this question: “Is the dream fulfilled?” Fifty years passes quickly as it turns out. Three years removed from his ponderings in 1964, King delivered controversial speech on the Vietnam War on April 4, 1967 at the Riverside City Church in New York City. It was entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence”, and the New York Times and the Washington Post called it a political mistake; others called it King’s most important speech. I’m not here to debate that today, but a there is section of that speech that deals with the passage of time that I believe ought to speak to all of us across the nearly 5 decades since it was written.

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still ‘the thief of time’.”

Have we made the most of our time? “Is the dream fulfilled” on our watch?

This is a question we can only answer by revisiting those trying days of 1964 and all that Dr. King and his colleagues were fighting for. We have to ask ourselves: Is democracy a reality in America today? Do all Americans have equal access to peace and prosperity? Are we confident that ours is a just and equitable society, a society of laws that respects the rights, freedoms, and differences of all people? Do all our children have the same access to opportunity and the same chance to live with dignity?

Until we can answer all these questions with a resounding, unhesitating and unequivocal “yes,” we have work to do. We must continue, as local citizens — as people of all different ethnicities, heritages, genders, ages, faiths, orientations, and identities — to gather, to speak and to sing, to march, and to work until we can offer the answer Dr. King was seeking.

Until then, that is why we march.

Until then, that is why we remember.

Until then, that is why we feel the fierce urgency of now.

Until then, we will never stop — until that day when the dream truly is fulfilled.