“I have a dream…” -Four words that would forever turn the tide on racial injustice.
On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his monumental speech to more than 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Fifty years later President Barack Obama delivered a speech from those same steps to thousands gathered at the nation’s capital, honoring all who marched there 50 years ago, fighting for equal rights.
“Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes,” said the President. “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair, not just for African Americans but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims.”
While he didn’t march in Washington, Naperville resident Thomas Armstrong did take part in the civil rights movement.
Through the 1950s and ‘60s, he risked his life to help other African Americans register to vote and became a Freedom Rider, once getting thrown in jail for riding a bus to New Orleans.
In his book, “Autobiography of a Freedom Rider: My Life As a Foot Soldier for Civil Rights,” Armstrong details the trials and tribulations of the civil rights era.
“I became withdrawn, didn’t want to deal with people, see people, didn’t want to talk to people, just didn’t want to be around them [and] kind of lost faith in them for awhile,” he said. “After the movement, I became an alcoholic.”
Herman White also grew up in the segregated south, going to school in Tuskegee, Alabama at a time when the city was beginning to integrate schools.
“At the time we were trying to integrate schools, just up from where I lived, maybe a thousand yards or so, there was a certain amount of terrorism,” said White. “People shot at houses to prevent African Americans from even trying to integrate the one high school that was in the city.”
Today, White is in his 39th year as a scientist for Fermilab and says the civil rights era paved the way for his career.
“Though the focus of the civil rights movement wasn’t on science or higher education or access to science, it was a focus on making sure that the opportunities existed for people to be able to pursue what they wanted to pursue,” he said.
Since Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream”, progress has been made for racial equality, particularly in terms of outlawing discrimination, but many think his dream has yet to come true.
“We’ve made great progress but we have a long ways to go. We have a problem with race in this country,” said Armstrong. “Mainly I see it because we as different ethnic groups refuse to talk to each other. We don’t talk to each other [and] we don’t learn how to talk to each.”
“One of the things that Dr. King realized is racism is not just attitudinal, its systemic,” said Stephen Caliendo, Political Science Professor at North Central College. “It’s not just about how we treat one another and getting along, it’s about an entire organizational structure that was put in place to support white supremacy and it has to be dismantled. We put in some steps but by and large Americans have not been able to wrestle with those large systemic issues.”
President Obama said we can tackle those issues and move mountains if millions of Americans of every race band together.
According to a CBS news poll 40% of African Americans say there’s still a lot of discrimination while only 15% of Caucasians agree.
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