Reflection on MLK and the Civil Rights Movement: Because of him we all have dreams

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was originally published in the Meigs Independent Press for the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech. Joyce Badgley was an eye witness to history during the turmoil of the 1960s in the nation’s capital. She is a graduate of Racine Southern High School and the Holzer School of Nursing.)

Because of Him We all have Dreams

By Joyce Badgley

Fifty years ago today on August 28, 1963 the famous “I have a dream” speech was delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King to 250,000 civil rights supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. In this speech Dr. King called for an end to racism in the United States. This speech was ranked the top American Speech of the 20th century in a 1999 poll of scholars of public address. Journalist Jon Meacham stated “With that single speech Martin Luther King joined Jefferson and Lincoln in the ranks of men who shaped America.”

My then fiancé Larry and I talked a lot about his words from that speech which follows:
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old negro spiritual “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

My husband and our infant son moved from Ohio to Washington D.C. in 1967. My husband’s job was on Constitution Avenue in D.C. It was a time of change in our lives and our country. We could feel it.

In the next few years changes came in the form of music, dress, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, draft card burnings, nuclear threats, signing of the civil rights act and voting rights act, assassinations notably John F.Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X., George Lincoln Rockwell, Martin Luther King, and Robert F.Kennedy… mention a few.

These changes affected us also. We had developed a close group of friends….two black couples and two white couples. We met at each others homes and while listening to the new music we would discuss politics. It seemed like everyday something new and different was on the news.

The champion of civil rights was of course Martin Luther King. We could still hear his words ringing in our ears. “One day right here 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.”

The year of 1968 marked the most change in my mind. There was the poor peoples march in which poor people… blacks, Chicanos, Native Americans and white converged on Washington and set up what became known as Resurrection City…mule drawn wagons driven from the south and tar paper shacks and tents erected near the Lincoln Memorial to protest the plight of poor people. We took our son there to see this and captured it on home movies.

Just a short time later Dr. King was assassinated and the city of Washington D.C. rose up in riots with burning and looting… the very thing Dr. King spoke against. We also took our son to see this devastation after things had quieted down. We were afraid of what would come.

Troops marched across the Memorial Bridge from Arlington,Virginia and they erected machine guns emplacements around major buildings in D.C. It was sad because Dr. King had earlier in 1964 received the Nobel prize for peace.

In what seemed like a short time later, we found ourselves on a rain misted street in Washington D.C. waiting for the hearse bearing the body of Robert F. Kennedy to drive slowly by. Our young son was again with us.

I had not thought of these events for several years until today. After spend our career life in Washington D.C., my husband and I retired to a different part of our country in 1998. The state of Nevada is quite different from the east coast. However, I was privileged to be a Clark county delegate for the nomination of our first black president in 2008. My husband also caucused for him four years later.

Our family is diverse of which I am proud. Our first son married a naturalized citizen of Thai descent who escaped from the Thai Lao border over the Mekong River when the Vietnam War was ending. Our second son married a woman whose father is Jewish and mother is Roman Catholic and they are now Methodist. Our daughter married a man from Salt Lake City.

Our second grandson goes to public school not far from where we lived in D.C. so very many years ago. He likes his class and his friends there. The last time I visited he told me about his special friend. “He is an African,” he said. I thought African American to myself. His Mom said, “No, he is from the continent of Africa.” My grandson is the only white boy in his class…all the rest are various shades of brown. His Mother thinks that’s good. And so do I…so do I.

It reminded me of Dr. King’s speech when he spoke about little black boys and girls and little white boys and girls joining hands as brothers and sisters.

Well, Dr. King “We may not have realized all of your dreams, Sir, but we are getting there…we are getting there.

(More about the author: Among the many things she has done in her life, she has written a book about growing up in the area along the Ohio River entitled, “I Could Never Leave the River: Memories of an Appalachian Girl.” Joyce Gloeckner Badgley is also the aunt of Meigs Indpendent Press owner, Carrie Gloeckner.)