Culture & Society

After ‘I Have A Dream’

A look at the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 speech. Texas A&M will honor King this week at the annual MLK Breakfast.
By Amber Francis '22, Texas A&M University College of Liberal Arts January 18, 2021

A black and white photo of Dr. King waving to the crowd at the March On Washington
Martin Luther King Jr. waves to the crowd gathered during the March on Washington after delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images


More than half a century has passed since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

In a defining moment of the Civil Rights Movement, King called for an end to racism in the United States. Texas A&M University Associate Professor Michael Collins said this is yet to be achieved, pointing to one of the most quoted lines of King’s speech: “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.”

In fact, Collins says “we have not even come close.” Collins, part of the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts, has expertise in American literature and culture, African American and African diaspora literature, and interdisciplinary literary studies.

“The murders of people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are tragic evidence of the fact that people who look like King’s children are still not being judged by the content of their character,” Collins said. “In fact, in 2020, 57 years after Dr. King gave his speech at the 1963 March on Washington, his son Martin Luther King III felt the need to join a new march on Washington intended to highlight continuing racial injustices. The old saying is that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.”

Change needs to be enacted not only at the personal level, but systemically, Collins said. He recommends King’s speech and its relationship to the Constitution be intensively taught to all high school students.

“King’s speech is rooted in a deep understanding of the Constitution,” he said. “The aforementioned killings and the effort made by a mob on Jan. 6 to stop a Constitutional process show that we are separated from King’s dream by a great deal of ignorance of the Constitution and of each other.”

The speech itself includes so much historical, theological, philosophical, political and rhetorical thought that it would be easy to build a section of a class, or even an entire course, around it, Collins said.

“I think that such sections and courses should be widely taught. And, just as ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is shown at Christmas time, programs devoted to the many meanings of the speech should be broadcast on Martin Luther King Day,” he said.

In an effort to honor King’s life and vision, the university holds the Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast. Its mission is to give Aggies a space to come together and discuss how King’s dream has been exacted in the past, how it is still relevant today, and how society can continue and enhance the progress already made.

“With everything we’ve endured and seen in the past year, racial injustice and inequality included, this event allows us to examine how our past carries over into our future — and how we can control it,” said Tiara Kinnebrew, a senior sociology major and MLK Director for the Division of Student Affairs’ Carter G. Woodson Black Awareness Committee.

The annual event is virtual this year, and will feature a keynote address from Jane Elliott, a longtime anti-racism activist.

“Not only has she been an advocate for civil rights since Dr. King’s time, but she’s someone who isn’t afraid to tell it how it is,” Kinnebrew said. “She doesn’t shy away from difficult discussions that need to be had; conversations that are imperative, especially in such a time as we are in now.”

The event is a chance to look to the future with hopeful, determined eyes.

“With this event, we hope to inspire those in our community and at Texas A&M to fight for a better future — not only for themselves, but for everyone,” Kinnebrew said. “Everyone, regardless of background, career or interests, can benefit from what the MLK Breakfast has to offer this year.”

This article by Amber Francis originally appeared on the College of Liberal Arts website.

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