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I have a dream...

By Russell Grenning - posted Friday, 13 July 2018

On 28 August 1963, US civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King spoke before a vast Washington audience and delivered his magnificent and inspiring speech which has become known as the "I have a dream" speech. Every sentence, every phrase and every word spoke of his hope – no, even his certainty – that America was changing and changing for the better and that racial segregation in all of its forms would be abolished.

On May 17, 1954, the US Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the historic Brown v Board of Education decision and he wrote, "In the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place" adding that segregated schools were "inherently unequal".

It was a long, difficult and even painful road for the USA before equality was achieved. It required much legislation – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was fundamental – but what is the situation today? Has full integration happened? Is there still a distance to go?


Well, while there are no longer any legal impediments for all races in the USA to achieve anything that individual talent, aspiration and hard work can achieve, there has been a reaction against what has been achieved over the past half century or so and that reaction is not just from diehard far-right whites still desperately clinging to discredited and disgraced notions from the past.

Some, perhaps amazingly, have come from blacks themselves.

Dr King's words, "I have a dream that my four little 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" have only narrowly avoided being erased recently from the entrance to a university and not some university in the Deep South from which black students were barred for decades but Oregon University in the far north-west.

Oregon University goes out of its way to be, in the words of its President and Professor of Law Michal H Schill, "welcoming to people of all races and ethnicities, all nationalities and religions, all sexual orientations and gender identities and abilities" but that is sometimes not quite enough. When renovations were being undertaking at a major campus building, its students and faculty members were asked if Dr King's words should be restored when renovations were completed.

Many said an emphatic "no".

It seems that many students – including black students - believed that Dr King's call for all people to be treated equally was not inclusive enough. One leading student protester told the student newspaper that, "Diversity is much more than race. Obviously race still plays a big role but there are people who identify differently in gender and all sorts of things like that."


It was a close-run thing but Dr King's words have survived. They had adorned the entrance since 1986 when an inspirational quote by a former University President from the 1960s praising the university was erased because it only mentioned "men". That misogynistic outrage just couldn't be allowed to last.

Meanwhile, Oregon University is sympathetically and positively considering a long list of "demands" (their word) from the Black Student Task Force. Needless to say, these "demands" are generally for more money, more black students, more courses on black culture and history and a far more sympathetic (meaning easier) system of marking black students' exam papers especially if the examiner isn't black. The university has already given the nod to the initial six "demands" including a review of the names affixed to campus buildings just in case the person so honoured doesn't meet the necessary 2018 politically correct criteria. You can bet that many luminaries from the past will also be erased from buildings as they have across the USA.

What is happening at one of the largest university in the USA, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reflects this developing trend.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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