I snuggled with my boys and watched a few video clips the other day to give them a small idea of life in segregated America. Specifically, what life was like for African Americans during this time.
We saw signs that were part of everyday life - hung in businesses and on fences around town. Signs that then were as common as street signs, but today make us draw back in disgust when we see them.
Colored riders to the back of the bus.
Pompously sanctioned racism, keeping white people safe and separate.
We learned about the Little Rock Nine- nine brave teenagers who went to school. And were attacked by angry mobs of crazies. And were forced away from school by the National Guard. And were rebuked by the Governor.
The demeanor of these students was shocking to me. They looked so dignified and strong as they walked towards the school steps. I almost expected to see the frothing mob fall mute in shame in the face of this silent righteousness. But they were blinded by hatred. Their special status and rights were being threatened, and nothing else mattered.
This hate slammed from fire hoses into students. And attacked students with German Shepherds. And arrested peaceful protesters. And mocked and spit and screamed and beat and marginalized and de-humanized.
I couldn't help crying as I held my son on my lap and watched these few moments of history. I cried with shame and anger, but I wanted my boys to see. See what our great country was like, just a few years ago. See what hatred looks like. See what WE are capable of.
"But one hundred years later (after the Emancipation Proclamation), we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition."
Then, I began to hear new words. Words like black brothers and sisters. And white brothers and sisters. And love. And dream.
"But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."
We saw white people and black people walking together, holding hands and signs with new messages that spoke truth to power. I cried again when we saw a father lifting his son up onto his shoulders to see the peaceful revolution.
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four 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."
When the words of Martin Luther King, Jr rang out over the sea of faces, it was almost too much to bear.
"This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, 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!"