Anti-racism message ‘as relevant now as in 1963’

Lord Simon Woolley.
Lord Simon Woolley.


By Lord Simon Woolley
Director and founder of
Operation Black Vote

LAST week marked the 57th anniversary of perhaps the greatest speech ever given – by civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr in 1963.

The fact that the most well-known part of the speech – ‘I have a dream’ – was almost an after­thought that one of his colleagues implored him to use is almost another story in itself.

The reality today is the very essence of that ma­jestic speech, delivered by only one man in the world who could execute that level of oratory at that time, is perhaps needed as much now as it was desperately needed back then to wake America up from the racial nightmare that was masquerading as the American dream.

Take a look at this part of the speech: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of in­justice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

“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.”

None of this is true today. Worse still, in Donald Trump, we have a Republican president who is supporting a 17 year old man who went on an anti- Black Lives Matter march with an assault rifle. He shot dead two African Americans in what Trump referred to as “self defence”.

That the president should defend a murderer who clearly was not going to peacefully protest is almost beyond comprehension, but the most wor­rying aspect of this is the message it sends: ‘White America, get out your guns and I will defend you if you kill these protestors. In particular, if they are in Democratically held areas of the country.’

In my lifetime I’ve never known an American president willfully stoking up a race war, and for what aim? To win an election. His political gam­ble is, if he can stoke up enough racial tension so that lives are lost, and then ride into town as the president elect who will bring in law and order, there are enough Americans, particularly in those swing states, for whom the fear of anarchy will be enough for them to re-elect him.

It’s a desperate strategy that might just work. Here in the UK, we cannot get our heads around the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. But most of America does. Therefore, it is no longer a quantum leap for a malicious president to poison the wealth of decency with fear and loathing of the black man.

This makes the anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s speech, which was heard live by over a mil­lion people, that much more important. Will the most powerful nation on the planet be plunged in­to a race and cultural war entirely of a president’s making, or will America be moved once more by a church man, a diminutive man who spoke those powerful words that transcended race, religion, gender and borders: “Let freedom ring! And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s chil­dren, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last!/ Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!