On August 18  a celebration was held in honor of the 250th anniversary of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I.  The Touro Synagogue is the oldest still-standing synagogue in the United States.  As in each annual celebratory service, the letter the synagogue received from President Washington  in 1790 was recited.  As stated in the section of the letter below, President Washington expresses the government’s support of “religious pluralism” and freedom from bigotry and persecution.  The letter certainly gives hope for a future of freedom, equality and respect in the U.S.

“… The Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. … May the children of the Stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”

On Aug. 24 the National Action Network sponsored the “Realize the Dream” march and rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of  the Aug. 28, 1963 “March on Washington” and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Yesterday, Aug. 28, celebrations were held throughout the U.S. and other countries in honor of this anniversary. 

It has been noted that Dr. King’s speech was not the speech he had written.  He spoke extemporaneously, in large part  because many speakers before him had covered much of the material in his written speech. 

Dr. King’s voice,  his face and his gestures as he preached the “I Have A Dream” speech were moving.  His words were full of hope, but he also pointed out the inequities that existed for “Negroes” in the United States. Below are excerpts from his speech that, hopefully, most Americans have heard or read.

“… one hundred years later the Negro is still 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 in exile in his own land.

“We all have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. 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 change racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice ring out for all of God’s children.

“There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted citizenship rights.

“… 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 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.

“… And I say to you today, my friends, let freedom ring.

“… And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and 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’re free at last!”

It is 2013, and as the U.S. has become more diverse, Dr. King’s hope for freedom for “all of God’s children” includes many other groups now living in the U.S.   Sadly, Dr. King’s dream of (hope for) freedom, equality and respect for all people has not come to fruition.  As the government (federal, state and local) enacts laws that deny or complicate the voting rights of certain groups and enact laws that enhance racial profiling (such as “stop and frisk” laws), hope for freedom, equality and respect for all people is diminished.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., (1929-1968) clergyman, activist, Civil Rights leader.

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” – Frederick Douglass, (c. 1817-1895) U.S. abolitionist who escaped from slavery; writer and lecturer in the North.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...