January 16, 2022 - 9:00 pm
It’s been almost six decades since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous speech. As the country celebrates his life and legacy, those words inspire and provide a way to navigate one of today’s most contentious policy debates.
Despite giving this speech before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Dr. King didn’t believe that America was fundamentally racist. He believed the problem was that America’s founding ideals — its promises, its dreams — had yet to be extended to all citizens.
“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” he said. “When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
“This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ ”
After a century of Jim Crow, Dr. King’s observation highlighted a vast blight on the nation. Dr. King and the African Americans gathered on the Washington Mall had experienced discrimination that would be unfathomable today. But he didn’t demand revenge or a revolution to overthrow America’s institutions.
“We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt,” he said. “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.”
Moments later, he would awe the nation with a vision that still uplifts and unifies.
“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 their character,” he said.
Yet many children today learn something different. Critical race theory-inspired curriculum teaches students that they are primarily defined by their skin color and group identities, not their individual character and their actions. That’s a mistake. Dr. King’s dream — which continues to resonate, uplift and inspire — is the far brighter beacon.