Wednesday, August 28, 2013

But By The Content Of Their Character

TigerBlog spent the last 30 minutes talking to Princeton head football coach Bob Surace, mostly about his experiences when he coached with the Cincinnati Bengals and it came time to cut players.

TB, obviously, had seen "Hard Knocks" the night before, and the show ended with the first round of cuts. It was fascinating to hear Surace's perspective on it.

Additionally, the first games for the 2013-14 academic year are just nine days away, and fall sports teams are deep into the preseason routines. There has been an endless parade of teams who have come through to get their head shots for the webpage, which is always a humorous event to watch.

There are new coaches, preseason polls, alumni accomplishments, and any number of other subjects to write about.

And that doesn't even touch on the fact that TB missed the lede when he wrote about Governor Christie the other day.

Today, though, isn't for any of that.

No, today is about the 50th anniversary of one of the signature moments in all of American history.

It was 50 years ago today that Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington, in what is one of the two greatest orations in this country's history, along with Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."

TigerBlog was an American history major at Penn, and he took several classes in which the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King himself were key components.

The speech itself was longer than scheduled, and Dr. King improvised much of the last few minutes. When he was over, he gave the original version to George Raveling, a basketball player at Villanova who would go on to be a long-time college basketball coach. Raveling still has the type-written paper that Dr. King gave him.

TigerBlog wrote the following about Martin Luther King back in 2012, on the January holiday that honors him:

When we allow freedom to 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 in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

The United States has 10 officially recognized federal holidays.

They are:
New Year's Day
The Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
Washington's Birthday
Memorial Day
Independence Day
Labor Day
Columbus Day
Veterans' Day

According to the official government website, the official name of "Presidents Day" is really "Washington's Birthday," and it offers this explanation:
This holiday is designated as "Washington's Birthday" in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.

In other words, only one federal holiday is named after a person who was born in the United States of America.

That's a fairly large group of people, a group that has accomplished some of the singularly greatest moments in the history of mankind, in every single area of human existence (science, religion, government, athletics, women's equality, economics, discovery and on and on and on).

Only one, Martin Luther King Jr., has ever been honored by a federal holiday in his name.

Dr. King was the driving force in the civil rights movement, and his non-violent approach helped achieve monumental successes in a struggle that had begun with an entire race of people literally in chains.

The major civil rights legislation that grew out of Dr. King's movement - with, by the way, considerable help from Princeton's John Doar - was 100 years after the end of the Civil War, which presumably was fought (at the cost of 600,000 American lives) to achieve many of the end results that would take another 10 decades.

And while the major victories of the movement weren't exactly bloodless, they had a much less violent path than anyone could have ever expected.

Ironically, Dr. King himself, a man of non-violence, saw his life cut short on April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated in Memphis in most violent fashion. His role in the movement, as its centerpiece, made him an inevitable target.

Meanwhile, back in August 2013, race is a huge issue in this country, even five years into the administration of its first black President. The news is filled with racially divisive stories, one after the next.

TigerBlog has read and reread the speech so many times. It is above all else a courageous speech, one that put Dr. King at conflict with whites who were threatened by his movement and by blacks who disapproved of a non-violent approach to effect change.

Ultimately, he became too big of a target, and it caught up to him less than five years later.

Before his death, though, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became the landmark legislations of their time. It is not a coincidence that they were passed within two years of his speech.

The complete text of the "I Have A Dream" speech is here.

Read it. Think about the courage it took to deliver it, and the man who had the courage to stand up and say those words.

Think about what it still means, today, 50 years to the day.

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