I like to listen to his "I Have a Dream" speech on this day. It is not long. It is only about sixteen minutes long but one of the most significant speeches that I have ever heard. It is something I encourage everyone to listen to on this day. It helps us realize why we have a national holiday in this country to honor this man who never held public office. In a time when we no longer honor Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays, but rather lump them all together in President’s Day, we have a national holiday to honor this man who made us realize the injustices and prejudices that were and to a degree still are an embarrassment to this great nation.
The speech was given on August 28, 1963. It was the keynote speech of the March on Washington, DC. I was only ten at the time. It was almost three months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I do not remember the speech at all from that time but more after April 4, 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis when, at fifteen, I could better understand the impact and meaning of the words.
In school, back in 1963, we learned that Lincoln freed the slaves. In my early naivete, I assumed that they were free and that was it. End of story. Slavery was evil but with the Emancipation Proclamation, everything was then set right and everyone lived happily ever after. I learned, however, that history is rarely that simple. It is way more complicated. My views changed gradually as I learned about carpetbaggers, sharecropping, the Ku Klax Klan, and the Jim Crow laws. At first, when I learned about “separate but equal,” I focused on the equal part more than the separate part. I liked to believe in our country and the noble values extolled in The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The glass was always half full for me back then. As I grew older, I learned that the separate part was quite definitive. The separate part was ruled with an iron fist. I came to learn that the equal part was anything but.
I remember a lot of the adults around me not thinking much of the civil rights movement and the leaders of this movement. Regarding Dr. King, most did not care for him. They believed what we now know is the propaganda clandestinely put forth by J. Edgar Hoover. Most were sons and daughters of immigrants whose parents escaped hardships, discrimination, and worse to come to this country because of all the noble ideas that enamored me as a school boy. By 1968, their views of Dr. King made no sense to me especially since no one else stated those noble and admirable American ideals as well as Martin Luther King did on that August day in Washington.
I filter all of this through my Armenian soul as well. I do it for a few reasons. First, I cannot help it. It is who I am. Second, we are people who suffered in another country and can relate to the movement led by and the message of Martin Luther King. My cousin Jason Ohanian sent me a tweet earlier today:
I do believe this is the second time in one week that cousin Jason provided a blog topic for me. Thanks again cuz!
Not sure about you, but today always makes me think about our Armenian ancestors' struggles.
Third, Hrant Dink was assassinated on the streets of Istanbul on January 19, 2007. He was gunned down because he was a beacon, leader, and voice as a citizen of Turkey who advocated that Turkey acknowledge their past injustices and embrace the Armenians still in Turkey and treat them as full equals. Hrant Dink indeed had a dream. He had the same dream as Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King Day was January 15th in 2007. When Hrant Dink was killed four days later, I remember thinking he is and should be viewed as a Martin Luther King of Turkey. Maybe they will have a national holiday in Turkey one day in honor for Hrant Dink.
I think I will listen to Dr. King’s speech one more time...