Two nationally televised speeches 50 years ago — one in January, the other in August — reveal all we really need to know about where we were as a country, how far we have come and the road we have yet to travel.
The first speech was the inaugural address in Montgomery by newly elected Alabama Gov. George Wallace amid demonstrations by civil rights groups demanding equality in such areas as education, employment and even the privilege of using the same water fountains as white people.
“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny,” declared Wallace, “and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”
The second 1963 address was Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech before a massive audience at the Lincoln Memorial that included these passages.
“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.”
As as for George Wallace’s Alabama?
“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.”
Wallace, left paralyzed by the bullets of an attempted assassination in 1972, later regretted his hateful speech. He repeatedly apologized to the black community, and in his last governor’s race, in 1982, won with 90 percent of the black vote.
King, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, was assassinated in 1968, but his words live on. America celebrates Martin Luther King Day on Monday as a national holiday.
This Sunday, Dr. King’s speech will be recited when the Oneonta Branch of the NAACP and the city of Oneonta Commission on Community Relations and Human Rights commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with a free event from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Elm Park United Methodist Church, at 401 Chestnut St. in Oneonta.
We urge everyone to attend to honor Dr. King’s memory … and remember those two speeches in 1963, both of which we forget at our peril.