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August 28, 2013

On anniversary of King’s speech, ‘we have to keep on fighting for the dream’

FAIRMONT — “I have a dream.”

Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech given Aug. 28, 1963, promised the hope and idealism of racial equality.

Delivered to more than 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the speech has been called a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.

For three local residents, parts of that dream have come true, while others are far from being fulfilled.

Charlotte Meade was just a few years out of college that day, “still in my formative years” concerning civil rights, she said.

“Dr. King’s message fit me better than a lot of other messages floating around at the time,” such as those of Malcom X and Stokely Carmichael.

She liked how King was comfortable with both educated and grassroots people alike, in private homes and public churches.

She liked how he envisioned black and white children walking hand in hand “in a world that would judge them on their character,” she said.

She’s encouraging churches to ring their bells at 3 p.m. today in connection with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

“I have a dream.”

Those words meant she was free to create and follow dreams of her own, figuring out where she was going and how she’d get there.

She said she was surprised at how many people embraced his words that day and the respect that paid to him, “some things you might have only experienced if it were the president,” she said.

“I saw hope and I was inspired by the number of people outside the United States who were also uplifted.”

That was shortlived, though, she added.

The dream has dimmed over the years.

“It’s become more of a talking point than an action point except for those who were already involved,” she said.

Not everyone took his nonviolent philosophy to heart, though, from the FBI that sought to “make sure his legacy would be stained,” she said, to those who battled the Freedom Riders to the very man who ended King’s life on April 4, 1968.

“Today we’re not really celebrating his speech,” Meade said. “We’re celebrating the guidance of the man who tried to give our nation and the world.”

“I have a dream.”

“A lot of good did come from that speech,” she said. “When I look back and see how things were, and see how things are, we have managed to come down the road a piece but we still have a long road to hoe yet.

“The thing that’s so disheartening about it is we’ve crossed that bridge. We’re past that, but now to see all these things go backward. We shouldn’t be fighting for the right to vote, to check the numbers of people employed by gender, age, race and so forth.

“To see if everyone is equal ... not fighting over a living wage and who deserves one, and who deserves to have a house.

“You get to thinking, ‘Here comes the division again.’ We’ve come a long way but if we’re not careful, we will go back the way we came.

“And that would be really sad. I would not want to see that in my lifetime.”

There’s a way to help keep this from happening, she said.

“Continue to tell the story,” Meade said. “Make sure the young people of all colors and ethnicities know the history that came before them so they can recognize the resurgence of things that were supposed to have been in the sea of forgetfulness.

“We need to understand one another better, not be chained to that history but freed by the knowledge of it, and to keep working toward the dream.”

“I have a dream.”

“That dream pertains to anybody and everybody,” Meade said. “Even before he gets to that statement ... ‘I have a dream’ ... everything is a message for everyone. That is what kept the folks silent, even those who may not have understood the meanings of some of the words.

“People realized there was a rhythm and a passion to what he was saying.”

Charles Nallen agrees that the dream remains unfulfilled.

“What he wanted for white America and black America has not yet come to fruition. I only wish that it had.”

He is pleased with much that’s happened in the past 50 years.

“But there is still a lot more to be done in terms of race relations with America being a melting pot and coming together ... even here in West Virginia.”

“I have a dream.”

Things are better now than they were before, he said.

“We can eat at any restaurant, stay at any hotel, sit anywhere in the movie theater. In Fairmont, years ago, we were allowed only in the balcony at the Fairmont, the Lee, the Virginian. The Palace Restaurant was segregated. Some things were still separate and not equal. We can attend Fairmont State.

“But all the dream has not come about, such as employment opportunities  ... This might be a good place to retire, but how can you work and survive and not have employment?”

He’s a little ambivalent about the speech.

“I was glad of the futuristic opportunities, the optimism it offered, but obtaining it is another goal. Perhaps not for me, but for others.”

He attended all-black Dunbar School and then later integrated Fairmont Senior.

“And unfortunately we were thrown into that situation without counseling, without a bridge to cross to get together.

“But both were a great experience. It speaks to the changing times we were able to come together without many incidents.

“It was interesting at the time because we were very dutiful as students. We did as we were told.”

“I have a dream.”

For Pastor Wesley Dobbs, these words gave a vision of a future world “of people getting together and working things out, just being of one accord,” he said.

“That’s the main thing he said to us, black and white living together as one. It’s a dream that still holds true today. We’ve not reached that place yet but eventually it will happen.

“A lot of the country has recognized and accepted that dream, but some have not. We have to keep on fighting for the dream. My goal is to continue to keep up with what Dr. King would have us do, to work together and work hard, where we have to go as a people and where we should end up.

“It takes everybody working together to achieve this goal.”

He still is in awe of the speech, its message and the way King delivered it.

“I can’t say enough about the speech,” said Dobbs, treasurer of the Marion County Chapter of the NAACP. “His intent was to get peace without guns, without fighting, and gained through love and respect for one another, one race to the other race.

“The little white children and black children walking hand in hand ... that is really great. There is always hope for people coming together. We have to live on that hope. We cannot put it down. The message lives on. That’s very important.”

“I have a dream.”

“We have to do whatever the struggle calls for. We can’t give up hope.

“Unfortunately, sometimes people give their lives for the dream, and Dr. King did. He was shot and killed for going to the aid of people less fortunate who wanted equal pay and rights. That was his vision.

“It would be great to say it will come true, but I don’t think the dream will ever just become true vision. I think we will still have hate in the world. Even for Christ himself, when he was in the land and walking on this Earth, there was hate.

“I pray Dr. King’s death was not in vain. People continue to fight for what’s right, for people to have what this land has to provide.

“‘The land of the free’ — that proclamation was made so many years ago that all men were created equal. We seem to have forgotten that. I pray it comes back to reality.”

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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