The Dream has become reality

Father David Epps's picture

On the day after the presidential election, someone asked me how I felt about the results. I replied, “I am conflicted.”

I shared that while I was deeply concerned about President-elect Barack Obama’s policies and was alarmed at his stand on the sanctity of life, I was, at the same time, deeply proud of my country. We have come a long, long way since the great “I Have a Dream” speech of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Growing up as a child in the 1950s, I vividly remember the segregated housing, the separate but not equal school systems, restricted seating at restaurants, the “white” and “colored” water fountains.

I recall how blacks, commonly referred to as “colored” or by the pejorative term, now only known in civilized society as the “N word,” were restricted to the balcony at movie theaters and to the back of the bus.

In the summer of 1966, it is with vivid clarity that I remember the wary uneasiness as Douglass High School and Dobyns-Bennett High School were integrated, and whites and blacks met in the dressing room for the first time for August football practice.

I recall that black children addressed white adults as “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Brown” while white children addressed black adults as “Mr. Bob” or “Miss Mary.”

But I also recall the friendships that were forged on the gridiron, that the most popular English teacher in the now-integrated high school was a black educator passionate about literature, and the dances and proms that included students who were formerly separated by only a few miles but, at the same time, a great gulf.

I remember Selma, Birmingham, cross burnings, and the peaceful marches punctuated by violence against the marchers. I remember the deaths of children in a bombed-out church, the slain civil rights workers in Mississippi, and I even remember seeing material published by the Ku Klux Klan distributed in my hometown.

And I remember the speech — the speech that brought a lump to my throat then and has the power to bring tears to my eyes now, 40 years later. The man, who, in Washington, D.C., gave the speech about a dream of a coming day when men would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, would be gunned down in Memphis and the nation would be plunged into an abyss.

Slowly, then with increasing speed, things began to change. Gone, now, are the separate water fountains, housing, schools, and all the repugnant rest. Gone are the segregated colleges, the laws against interracial marriage, the dogs being turned on peaceful protesters, the all-white professional sports organizations. Opportunity and equality have slowly emerged.

Black men and women, for years now, have been elected as governors, mayors, senators, congressmen, and to other offices in the land. A black man sits on the Supreme Court and some of the most powerful members of the President’s Cabinet have been African-Americans.

And now, by a vote of 53 percent of the American citizenry, a black senator from Illinois, the land of Abraham Lincoln, has been elected as the President of the United States of America.

A former mayor of New York said recently, “This is still a racist society.” I respectfully disagree. There will always be bigots of every shade and hue — that is part of our fallen humanity. But our society now is not the same society that it was in my childhood and, in that, I rejoice.

The poorest child in the worst neighborhood can, through education, vision, and hard work, aspire to be anything. He, or she, can be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a police officer, a mayor, a Congressman — he or she can even dream of being President of the United States.

It is a profound moment. The dream has become reality and I am proud to be an American.

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dawn69's picture
Submitted by dawn69 on Tue, 12/09/2008 - 9:59am.

Go to or call 1-800-555-2451 to order a commemorative White House ornament this Christmas. My mother ordered one for each of my kid's - it's a very nice keepsake and one day my children may be showing it to their children explaining how the election of 2008 was a turning point in our society. Most of you know that I supported McCain, yet I realize fully well the dream Father Epps speaks of so fondly.

Father Epps: I am much younger than you, but I too remember the injustices of our past. I remember being about 6 or 7 years old and wondering why God made ME white and others black. I remember feeling grateful that I had been born white, which meant that, even at that young age, there was a comprehension of those injustices.

When my daughter was 6, I asked her if she knew why she was out of school (for MLK's birthday). She said: "Yeah. Like a thousand years ago, there was a guy named Martin King. People used to have assigned seats on the bus - he made it so that people didn't have assigned seats anymore." Then she whispered to me: "But Ms. Evans still makes me sit on the second row.".

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