‘A dream worth striving for’
Fifty years to the day have passed since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, which he re-emp
Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 19:08
Fifty years to this day have passed since the March on Washington D.C. drew 250,000 people in support of civil rights.
It was on that late-summer afternoon that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what became known as his “I Have A Dream” speech.
Much has changed in the time between that milestone in the Civil Rights Movement and where race relations stand today in the U.S.
President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. His successor, President Lyndon Johnson, pushed for the Civil Rights Act, which passed in July of 1964, outlawing major forms of discrimination based on race, nationality, gender and religion.
Dr. King and his followers continued the fight for equality. He traveled around the country trying to rally support from ministers.
Contra Costa College became a stop on his road to equality.
More than 2,000 students and community members packed the Gymnasium to hear the then 35-year-old King speak, in what was his first trip to Northern California.
“He brought down the house,” former CCC student Ted Radke said. “The Gym was packed. I’ve never seen a crowd so excited.”
For $1, students had the opportunity to listen to one of the most influential figures and greatest orators of the 20th century.
“I think the greatest tribute the nation can have for the late President Kennedy is to pass the Civil Rights Bill without a change of one word,” King told the CCC crowd, according to an article in the Feb. 21, 1964 edition of The Advocate.
Radke, who also taught political science at the college for more than 35 years, remembers shaking King’s hand after the speech.
“I just told him that I enjoyed the speech,” Radke said.
Former state assemblyman John T. Knox said he still remembers that night in 1964.
According to a story in the April 5, 2000 edition of The Advocate, Knox said, “He had a quiet determination and could look you right in the eye,” Knox said. He was able to spend time with King at a reception for him after his address to the students.
“He really had an interest in what people had to say,” Knox said.
A believer in non-violent resistance, King was against some of the militant sentiment toward achieving civil rights. “The doctrine of black supremacy is just as dangerous as that of white supremacy,” King said in his speech at CCC.
With the ratification of the 24th Amendment, which found any poll tax to be unconstitutional, discrimination at the polls based on income was eliminated.
The progress of the movement was undeniable, but the nation was, and is, still far from true equality.
The opportunity gap
Many students and faculty at Contra Costa College feel that society must still fight for equal rights and opportunities.
“We’re still fighting for equality,” history professor Manu Ampim said. “We have gained much ground with civil rights, but we have more ground to cover with economic inequality.
“There are (even) things we can do to fight inequalities here at the college,” he said. “If we’re able to get rid of the achievement gap, we’ll be a bit closer to that goal.”
The achievement gap is the difference in academic performance between different ethnic groups.
“It really should be called the opportunity gap instead of the achievement gap, since we don’t have equal opportunity for everyone,” Ampim said.
Senior Dean of Instruction Donna Floyd said we are still in the fight for equality.
“We’re still fighting for the dream. The speech is still relevant,” Dr. Floyd said. “The thing about that speech is that it was about people, the whole human society. It crosses lines of color. It is a human issue.”
Drama major Amani De Paoli agrees.
“I believe we have much more room to go,” De Paoli said. “Obvious forms of racism may have decreased in places like here (California), but in other parts of the country it is an entirely different story.”
Liberal arts major Larry Cornish said, “We may be on the road to equality, but it’s going to still be a long time until we reach economic equality for all races.”
Tragedy and the pursuit of progress
On April 4, 1968, an assassin’s bullet would end King’s life in Memphis, Tenn.
Though King would sacrifice his life for the cause, his message still rings in people who were able to hear it directly from him.
“Before the victory is won, some will be thrown in jail, others will face violent death,” King said to the crowd in the Gym, “but their deaths will not be in vain if we can bring about a period when the people in our country are no longer faced with the nightmare of racial-living death.”
“He focused on morals and principals above race and religion,” Radke said.
He said King also focused on what was good for the entire nation as a whole.
“He left us too soon,” Radke said. “But it’s up to us to keep the fight going.”
“The problem we face in our country is not a sectional problem,” King said to CCC students. “It is a national dilemma and it is only through legislation, determined direct action and love that we will be able to make America what she is called up to be.”
President Denise Noldon said, “We have definitely evolved since that speech was made, but it is definitely a dream worth striving for. ”