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A ripple in time

Pavel Bianca-Gabriela

History of the United States


Cristian Pralea
February 10, 2014

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest
demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today,
signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light
of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.
It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.1
1. The dream that changed a nation
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. came before 250,000 civil rights supporters on the
steps of the Lincoln Memorial in what was going to become one of the greatest moments in
the history of the United States and a milestone in the fight against segregation. Originally,
Martin Luther King designed his speech to be a homage to Abraham Lincolns Gettysburg
Address, timed to correspond with the 100 year centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation,
but it became much more than that. In a time when the president John Fitzgerald Kennedy
was willing to pass the civil rights legislation and more and more African-Americans were
taking refugee in the less racist states from the north, Martin Luther wanted to adress the
people about the atrocities that were not seen on television but only heard of and the dangers
of another bill that would abolish slavery but not end it once and for all. We cannot be
satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he
has nothing for which to vote2. Martin Luther Kings greatest fear was that regardless of the
new civil rights legislation, the African-Americans will remain slaves in the eyes of southern
states just like what happened after the Emancipation Proclamation. King refers to the
1 Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have a Dream" (speech, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963), American
Rhetoric, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm
2 Ibid
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Declaration of Independence as a promissory note (...) 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 Happiness3, a note that for the African-Americans has come back marked
"insufficient funds". His speech inspired a nation and even though King did not live to see the
gain of full rights for the African-Americans, his dream lit the spark that changed the life of
millions.
2. The origin of the dream
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you
the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world4
Martin Luther King started preaching about his dreams since 1960, when he gave a
speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called
The Negro and the American Dream. His dreams and inspiration for civil rights came from
many other activists before him and from one that was undeniably the pioneer of civil rights
for African-Americans. Had Lincoln not pave the steps for abolishing slavery, Martin Luther
King as well as many other activists for civil rights would have had a harder mission, nearly
impossbile. Abraham Lincoln dreamt too, in his time, of a country where all citizens had the
undisputable right to freedom and pursuit of happiness, a country that should look forward to
more threatening matters and stop fearing about what will the African-Americans do if they
were to gain their freedom. Although abolishing slavery came as a milestone in the history of
the United States, it did not help the people change their thinking of the African-Americans
nor did it abolish slavery in all the states. What it did in fact was changing the status of the
3 Ibid
4 Harriet Tubman (African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the
American Civil War.)

the negros from slaves on plantations to poorly payed employees with no rights on the
same plantations. The greatest purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was pharhaps to
inspire many generations to come to rise up and demand fair and equal rights for all,
regaredless of their creed, ethnicity or skin color.
3. Lincoln and the Emancipation
Abraham Lincoln was born and raised in a Baptist family, much like Martin Luther
King whos father was a Baptist pastor. His father never kept slaves and had a very strict
opinion on this matter. This had a influence on young Lincoln who adapted his fathers
convictions on the issue of slavery. It is widely held that an important moment in his life was
a trip to New Orleans when he was 19 where he encountered slaves. This left a lasting
impression on him shown in a letter wrote to his friend Joshua Speed : You know I dislike
slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it5. Later on Lincoln moved to the free
state of Illinois where he became a lawyer. One of the well know cases of his carrer was of a
black woman, Nance Legins-Costely, who was to become the first slave freed by Abraham
Lincoln. Nance was sold by Major Cromwell to David Bailey on June 13, 1836 for a 377$
promissory note but she left Baileys service six months later saying that she was freed and
thus could not be sold as a slave6. The case moved to the Supreme Court where Abraham
Lincoln defended the young woman and her children. After Lincolns legal arguments had
secured her freedom, she moved to Pekin until her death about 1873, at approximately 60
years of age .
5 Letter to Joshua Speed,
http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/speed.htm, accessed on
February 6, 2014
6 For the people, A newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association, volume 1,
number 3, 1999, http://www.abrahamlincolnassociation.org/Newsletters/1-3.pdf,
accessed on February 7, 2014
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This trial became well known around the United States and Lincoln was seen as a
beacon of hope for the slaves. In 1858, Lincoln held a series of public debates with Senator
Stepher Douglas on the issue of slavery. Slavery was the subject of these debates due to
Lincolns well know anti-slavery convictions, but the outcome wasnt the one some
individuals expected. Douglas tried troughout the debates to prove that Lincoln was an
abolitionist and that he wanted not only to free the slaves but to give them equal rights. In a
country that was sweltering in injustice, Lincoln knew he had to take the issue of slavery step
by step so he did not give satisfaction to Douglas. Altough Lincoln lost the election by
legislature, he won the popular vote and the transcripts and the media coverage of the debates
were spread around the country, raising Lincolns national profile and making him the best
option for the 1960 presidential election.
I should like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares
that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop?
If one man says it does not mean a negro, why may not another man say it does not
mean another man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get this statute book in
which we find it and tear it out.7
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States. Because of the his
anti-slavery beliefs and campaign, seven states with cotton-based economies formed the
Confederacy before Lincolns inauguration. One month later, after attempts to stop a conflict,
Civil War began because of the Norths desire to stop the expansion of slavery. After three
years of war, Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st 1863, declaring
free arond 4 million slaves in ten states that were still in rebelion. Since the Emancipation
was based on the presidents war powers, it only included the territories held by Confederates
7 The Lincoln-Douglas Debates,
http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/debates.htm, accessed on February 8,
2014
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at the time. However this document became a symbol of hope for many African-Americans,
proving that the Union was going to add the emancipation to their definition of liberty. By
late 1864, Lincoln convinced the Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, making the
Emancipation universal and permanent. Shortly before his assassination in 1865, Lincoln was
discussing about giving voting rights to at least some of the blacks.
Pharhaps the greatest similitude between Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King is
their desire for justice and freedom for all. While in his early political years, King was
inspired to fight for civil rights because of the struggle that his people endured, Lincolns
quest for the Emancipation was not tied to the color of the slaves but to the main principles of
liberty. It is pharhaps the greatest lesson that King learned from his predecessor. After taking
a trip to India in 1959, he retured to the United States with a much better understanding of
non-violence activism and with a new meaning to his civil rights view. King realized that the
racial issue in Unites States was not a political issue but a moral one and thus he started
appealing to the morality of the people. Although King didnt talk much about the people that
inspired him, he chose to dedicate the begining of his greatest speech to Abraham Lincoln in
order to adress the people from a moral point of view, not a segregation one:
Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or
animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict
on our soul when we look the other way.8
This decision was meant to make a refference to a turning point in the Unites States
history for all African-Americans and also to pay tribute to Lincolns first words in his
Gettysburg Address : Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this

8 Martin Luther king Jr, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/17266-never-never-beafraid-to-do-what-s-right-especially-if, accessed on February 8, 2014


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continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men
are created equal. 9
Kings decisions and his non-violence speeches paved the way for civil rights and the
road to the ending of segregations, a road that was started by Abraham Lincoln, five score
years ago. Both Lincoln and King had an early demise but although none of them lived to
see the full accompilshments of their efforts, they both lit a spark that changed the world.

(...)that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that


cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that
we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom(...)10

9 The Gettysburg Address, http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?


flash=true&doc=36, accessed on February 8, 2014
10 Ibid8
7