Today marks the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther’s King, Jr., in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  One of the most memorable quotes from that speech was his reference to a system of earned merit:  “I have a dream 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.”  Dr. King, of course, was referring to meritocracy, a system and culture in which all people are respected and earn their way by their achievements and the quality of their character which produces those achievements.  Unfortunately, for much of our country’s history, there was no chance for the black man or woman to prove the quality of their character by their achievements.  Although our Declaration of Independence declared that all men were created equal, American slavery, the politicians that upheld it, and even the court justices that delivered morally flawed rulings in support of slavery, created a system where a man or woman was declared to be only partially human based on race, i.e. the color of his or her skin.  Our nation required a very bloody civil war to resolve that issue of slavery, but even after that war, it was another 100 years before the issue of equality would be completely settled.

Reconstruction followed the Civil War, but as soon as northern troops were pulled out of the south for other wars and military operations, southern politicians and businessmen soon put their feudal system back into place, a system which ensured that, no matter what blacks did to improve their education and status in life, they were still viewed as less human than whites.  The so-called “Jim Crow” laws and other policies used widely across the south established a system of “separate but equal” establishments and services for whites and blacks.  The truth of the matter was, however, that the separate systems for blacks were not equal to the quality of systems for whites.  In most places in the south, blacks could not vote, were not guaranteed a fair trial if accused of crimes, often did not even receive “due process of law” in which they were afforded certain rights after arrest, were not treated equally by the law and courts, and were not given equal access to public services and commercial establishments. 

It is hard to fathom in our modern day and age that such a system would ever exist, but such racist policy was not peculiar to America.  Indians, inspired and led by Mahatma Ghandi and others, also fought and won the right to self-rule from the sometimes brutal colonial authority of Great Britain, under which Indians in their very own native country, no less, were often treated as less than equal, as inferior to the white rulers of their country.  Moreover, the Hindu caste system, the disenfranchisement and subordinate status of women, and other such systemic problems in India created a stratified society in which only certain privileged people were treated as equal and deserving of dignity, full human rights, due process of law, and the right to vote for political leaders.  Furthermore, many of us can remember, in our lifetime, the struggle of native South Africans against the colonial system of Apartheid.  It was against just such an unfair and unequal system in America that civil rights leaders were fighting against, and one of the tools they used most effectively was civil disobedience, an act of defiance against unjust laws that Henry David Thoreau made famous in his 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience.” 

More on this tomorrow.  I pray that you will all thank God that we live in a free country today where all people are free, created equal by our Loving God, and treated equal under the law.


 


Comments

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    I'm a retired soldier, having spent 23 years of my life serving our country, actually 30 years when you count the reserve and National Guard time as well.  I believe in servant leaders, following the example of our Lord, and I believe in giving back to the troops once one has attained a certain status or level of success in life.  But I also believe in fighting back against corruption and incompetence wherever you find it if it hurts people.  Our national values were worth dying for.  They are also worth living for.  A man or woman can actually live a life by these principles of humility, service, love, duty, and honor, and have a significant impact on the world around them...if you have the dedication to see it through. 

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