HBCUs Highlight New Threats, King's Speech Sadly Relevant After 60 Years
With the March on Washington anniversary nearing, HBCUs highlight new threats, King's speech sadly relevant after 60 years. This confluence underscores the persistent struggle for progress and equality.
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) participating in the 60th anniversary celebrations of the March on Washington intend to emphasize the growing threats to Black history education nationwide. These threats encompass various forms, such as state laws targeting critical race theory and a rise in book bans.
According to PEN America, nearly one-third of this year's nearly 1,500 banned books pertain to race, racism, or characters of color. Florida witnessed a significant clash over critical race theory, influencing educational standards and sparking controversy between Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Tim Scott.
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Clarissa Myrick-Harris from Morehouse College highlights the importance of preserving Black history and resisting attempts to erase it. She states:
We want to highlight that history and then talk about what can be done … to push back against these attempts to erase Black history.- Clarissa Myrick-Harris
It is sad that many of those things that people in 1963 were marching for and marching against are still issues in the world.- Clarissa Myrick-Harris
HBCUs have historically played a vital role in providing education for Black Americans, with the March on Washington offering another platform to underscore their ongoing significance.
Cassandra Newby-Alexander, from Norfolk State University, acknowledges HBCUs' endurance and dispels misconceptions about their relevance, stating:
There are too many people for too long who had been saying that HBCUs have had basically, past their expiration date, they were no longer necessary.- Cassandra Newby-Alexander
Clarence Dunnaville, a Morgan State University graduate who attended the original March on Washington, reminisces about the journey and the march's impact. He expresses concern that the history he witnessed might be erased and emphasizes HBCUs' role in ensuring accurate and preserved Black history education.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this speech, known now as his "I Have a Dream" speech, in the summer of 1963 at the height of the March on Washington in our nation's capital. The speech’s 60th anniversary is Monday. His words continue to echo as a beacon of hope and a call for unity, transcending time and remaining relevant in the face of modern challenges.
King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech resonated deeply, inspiring change and driving progress. His words led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and symbolize the resilience of marginalized communities in their pursuit of justice and equality.
As the anniversary approaches, Dunnaville encourages everyone to revisit King's speech, asserting its relevance in guiding how we treat one another. The speech's enduring significance echoes today's struggles against prejudice, hate, and division.
The march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by religious and labor leaders, underscores the lasting impact of the original event. Similarly, annual marches in Duluth commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, promoting community unity and reflection.
On this milestone anniversary, taking a mere 16½ minutes to reacquaint ourselves with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words is a reminder of our shared values and the unity we can foster. Just as the HBCUs highlight new threats, King's speech is sadly relevant after 60 years to safeguard the spirit of equality, justice, and hope.
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
So we have come to cash this check - a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied ?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only" . We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
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.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning , "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"
Howard University, situated in urban Washington, D.C., often referred to as the "Harvard of HBCUs," boasts a diverse student body comprising 67 percent Black students and a third of its students hailing from other racial backgrounds.
The top-ranking HBCUs in the US for 2024 according to College Raptor are as follows:
- Spelman College
- Howard University
- Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
- Morehouse College
- Tuskegee University
- North Carolina A&T State University
- Winston-Salem State University
- Alcorn State University
North Carolina A&T State University claims the title of the largest HBCU in the nation in terms of enrollment. It leads in academics, research, and innovation, particularly excelling in STEM programs and producing impactful individuals.
As the curtain falls on the commemoration, HBCUs highlight new threats, and King's speech is sadly relevant after 60 years. This underscores the urgency of the challenges still faced. The diligence of these institutions in safeguarding Black history education, coupled with the timeless wisdom of King's words, propels us toward a future where understanding and justice prevail.