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Deferring Dreams

What happens to a dream deferred renowned poet Langston Hughes asked in his resonate poem “A Dream Deferred” published in the early 1950s.

This question poised by Hughes carries contemporary interest during the dawning weeks of the Year 2008 when the word ‘dream’ is so much in the news.

January is the month of the birthday and national holiday of the inspirational man who moved America mightily–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.–best known to so many as the person delivering that historic “I Have A Dream” speech.

U.S. Senator Barack Obama has a dream of becoming the first black man to serve as President of the United States.

U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton has a dream of becoming the first woman to serve as President of the United States.

Republican presidential nominee candidates dream of keeping the White House under the control of their party.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Clinton and Obama hoist their candidate competencies on the dream-like stance of being agents for change.

Obama framed his candidacy around ‘change’ from the beginning with Clinton recently adopting this theme when convinced of its resonance within broad sections of the nation’s electorate who want change beyond a new face in the Oval Office.

The dreams driving Clinton and Obama’s electoral ships recently hit shallow water silliness with an ugly imbroglio arising from a Clinton statement prompting surrogates for both candidates to pontificate about their possessing the proper interpretation of that history-tinged reference regarding President Lyndon Johnson and Dr. King.

Obama gets mileage out of his book titled “The Audacity of Hope.”

Well, the man famous for the Dream speech–King–authored an essay released after his assassination entitled: “A Testament of Hope.”

In that essay King credited Johnson for his seminal strides on civil rights legislation yet criticized Johnson for stumbling in transforming hopes from that legislation into making the American Dream a waking reality for all.

“President Johnson did respond realistically to the signs of the times and used his skills as a legislator to gets bills through Congress that other men might not have got,” King stated in his “Hope” essay.

“I must point out, in all honesty, however, that President Johnson has not been nearly so diligent in implementing the bills he has helped shepherd through Congress.”

Clinton gets mileage out of her book “It Takes a Village.”

Well, in that “Hope” essay King discussed the need for collective responsibility of all Americans to address ravishes of institutional racism.

“Americans who genuinely treasure our national ideals, who know they are still elusive dreams for all too many, should welcome the stirring of Negro demands.”

So, what really happens to a dream deferred?

“Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore–and then run?” legendary black poet Langston Hughes asked.

When the dream is constantly deferred: “Does it stink like rotten meat? Or curst and sugar over–like a syrupy sweet?”

Candidates talk about jobs yet none stress findings of studies like that issued in August 2007 by the UC Berkeley Labor Center stating fifty-four percent of all full-time black workers in the United States work for low wages.

During his last Sunday sermon before his 1968 assassination, King declared, “if a man doesn’t have a job or income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.” When assassinated, Martin King was in Memphis, TN helping striking trash workers.

Some candidates fume about America’s faltering economy yet none reference the “State of the Dream” report issued in mid-January by the research/advocacy group United for a Fair Economy that found the sub-prime lending mess responsible for the “greatest loss of wealth to people of color in modern U.S. history.”

While Dr. King is seen as a champion of civil rights whose central thrust was social integration, his core concern was actually the attainment of ‘silver rights.’

During the last years of his life, King’s push for ending the economic inequity experienced by Americans of all colors probably played a larger role in his assassination than his being a popular black leader.

In the months before his April 4, 1968 murder, Dr. King was preparing for The Poor People’s Campaign, a populist protest planned for Washington, DC to push the federal government to eliminate poverty from ‘the hollows of Appalachia to the ghetto of Harlem.’

During an interview conducted shortly before his murder in Memphis, King said, “the economic question is the most crucial that black people and poor people generally, are confronting.”

In that “Hope” essay King noted, “When millions of people have been cheated for centuries, restitution is a costly processWhite America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.”

None of the front running candidates Democrat or Republican are advancing radical changewith exception of Republican continuance of radical ‘rich-first’ restructuring of America’s economy that has raped the middle-class of all races since President Reagan’s reign during the 1980s.

Mythology marginalizes the continuing import of Dr. King’s message.

Many forget (or never knew) that before King articulated his famous 1963 Dream, he detailed nightmares like police brutality, electoral disenfranchisement, structural discrimination and disillusionment–deprivations that persist today.

In a 1904 speech the first black man nominated by a national political party for the U.S. presidency, George Edwin Taylor, reminded America of the “bold fact” that its “fundamental principles are fast being covered up, ignored, disregarded and practically nullified”

So, what really happens to a dream deferred?

Langston Hughes wondered if “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load or does it explode?”

Deferring dreams, King reminded in “Hope” is the “illusion of the damned.”

Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune, America’s oldest African-American owned newspaper, founded in 1883.

 

 

 

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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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