On a hot August day in 1963, a man stood up and spoke for about seventeen minutes. When he began, an estimated 250,000 participants of the “March on Washington” paused to listen as millions more tuned in by television and radio. When he finished, Martin Luther King Jr. had established his own place among great American leaders.
His “I Have a Dream” speech captured the attention and the imagination of a nation in 1963 – and has held it ever since. Even today, decades after his death, the words of that day are still echoing in the hearts and minds of everyone from school children to those of us who can remember hearing them live.
“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 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.”
But for all of their weight and their lasting impact, these words were only a very small part of his lifelong fight for civil rights and equality. And while for many this is the moment that is tied in memory to Dr. King, the truth is that there are so many other critical dates and major accomplishments that together are the foundation for his lasting legacy. His words, ideas and actions led to changes in how our government sets policies and enforces laws, in how neighbors live together and in how all of us think about the ideas of freedom and democracy. His dream may have been defined in words in 1963, but we are still exploring how that dream becomes a reality for everyone.
Once again, around his birthday, the campus and community has organized a series of opportunities at Illinois to come together to remember and to honor Dr. King and to push that exploration another step forward. This year’s theme is “Honoring the Civil Rights Movement as the Struggle Continues: Empowering the Dream…Make It Your Own.”
Please notice that even in the title we as a campus acknowledge that there is still work to be done and that as individuals we all have both power and responsibility. I think if he were here today, Dr. King would be among the first to acknowledge that the United States has, indeed, made great progress in realizing his dream. But I also believe that he would be among the first to say that there is still a distance to go and that we all have plenty left to do. We each have a personal opportunity to advance Dr. King’s ideologies of equality and justice, and I hope you will “make the dream your own,” as this year’s theme urges.
Many of the events being held this week are opportunities to learn about the issues Martin Luther King Jr. cared about most. The events are held across Champaign-Urbana and range from celebratory performances to guided discussions about racism to a poverty simulation. There really is something here to engage everyone in our community and you can find a complete list here.
Whatever your memory or your picture of Dr. King may be, whether a speech at the Lincoln Memorial or his last moments on the Tennessee balcony or one of the many places in between, I hope you have a chance to share it during one of these great events.
Around the Campus
Congratulations to materials science & engineering professor Lane Martin who recieved the 2013 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor the U.S. government confers upon young investigators establishing their independent research careers. Read the full story here.
Congratulations to the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities which has received a $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund the first two years of an extensive consortium of 15 humanities institutes. Read the full story here.
Illinois has made Business Insider's list of "The 14 Most Beautiful & Iconic American College Quads." Read the full list here.