Fifty years on, has the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. become a reality? If he could make a speech today, how would he grade our progress? How would he address our shortcomings? And what course would he map out for our nation's future, racial justice, freedom and harmony, prosperity and peace?
That President Barack Obama will make such an address today gives a partial answer. His election, twice, is a dream realized.
We are now a nation burdened with less institutional prejudice. We are burdened, too, with less racism in individual hearts. Each generation of children grows up with less of a divide, less distrust and hatred.
King, speaking today, would probably share a new dream: of improved outcomes. He might speak of mobilizing the resources of the nation to educate our youth, and eliminate the achievement gap between white and black students, and rich and poor ones. He would likely rail against the injustice, and the foolishness, that has landed so many young black men in jail. He'd exhort us to fight teen pregnancy, and poor health outcomes, and a fractured family structure that gives too few the tools to succeed. And he would, no doubt, again beg us to love one another, to repudiate violence, "to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."
He could be proud of our nation's progress, but far from satisfied.