I participated in a panel discussion last night entitled “The State of the Dream,” a reference to the now famous “I Have A Dream” speech of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event, held on the campus of Old Dominion University, was sponsored by the Virginia Beach chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and featured radio personality Ray Pope as moderator. Other panelists were (L-R in the photo) Pam Brown, chair, Republican Party of Norfolk; Dr. Carlos Campo, president, Regent University; Helen Sommer, executive director, Habitat for Humanity South Hampton Roads; Wanda Cooper, CEO, Cooper Law Firm; Marsha Lockard, vice president, Suburban Acres Civic League; and Wil Laveist, media journalist.
While the panel primarily focused on a carefully crafted series of questions, we did take one from the audience. The question boiled down to whether Dr. King would have supported gay marriage. My answer: an unequivocal yes.
I don’t profess to be any kind of scholar on Dr. King. For obvious reasons, though, I am quite aware of those who are supportive of LBGT rights. Dr. King’s widow, Corretta Scott King, was a vocal supporter. And she believed her husband would have been, too. Here is a quote from 1994:
For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law…I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” On another occasion he said, “I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.” Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.
Dr. King himself had little to say on the subject. This article from last year explores the question directly.
Rev. C.T. Vivian, who worked with King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says King would have championed gay rights today.
“Martin was a theologian,” Vivian says. “Martin starts with the fact that God loves everybody, and all men and all women were created by God. He based his whole philosophy on God’s love for all people.”
Honestly, I don’t think the plight of the LGBT community was on the radar of Dr. King in 1963 when he made the “I Have A Dream” speech. His concern was for the plight of black Americans, who were being denied rights afforded white America:
When the architects of our 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 “unalienable 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 the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have come a long way since those words were uttered. We no longer have separate water fountains, or have to sit at the back of the bus or attend inferior schools, with their second-hand textbooks and facilities. I believe Dr. King would be pleased with the progress. But I think he would be disappointed that more has not been achieved. I think he would be saddened by the story of panelist Wanda Cooper, a young lawyer who has been mistaken for a court reporter. And I think he would be saddened by the state of far too many black families today.
I think the realization of Dr. King’s dream is ongoing. We have to work every day – not just on this celebratory day – to overcome issues of racial, economic and social justice.
That’s paying tribute to the legacy of the man who made the ultimate sacrifice.