David Banks: Martin Luther King Jr's dream lives on

Fifty years ago Dr Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I have a dream" speech. David Banks recalls the healing words decent people celebrate to this day

If I had a quid for every time I’ve uttered those three little words – “Thank you, doctor” – over the past month I would by now have enough dosh to rebuild our village hall.

Since I last felt well enough to write this column I’ve had two bouts of oral surgery, four days in hospital being treated for a blood clot in my lung, followed by a short operation to provide specimens for a biopsy.

Hence my unending gratitude to the medical profession.

But, having explained my absence from these pages, let me now salute a different doctor – Martin Luther King Jr, whose “I have a dream” speech 50 years ago began the process of emancipating those enslaved by race or religion.

King himself was celebrating the Eman­cipation Proclamation of a century earlier, with which Abraham Lincoln made worthwhile a bloody civil war by freeing America’s slave population.

In 1963, King inspired the USA – and, through example, the industrialised West – to quicken the pace.

“I have a dream,” he famously implor­ed, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’.

“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.”

Has it come to pass? Not quite: five years after his speech King was dead, victim of a racist assassin’s bullet.

30 years later, a good New Yorker friend, a Democrat so liberal that she wept when President George W Bush was re-elected, was still telling visitors that if they should find themselves in a neighbourhood with a street named after Martin Luther King to “lock yourselves in the car and run red lights until you’re the hell out of there!”.

It isn’t all one-way traffic, either. When my daughter-in-law was home in Ghana recently, showing off my first grandchild to his Ghanaian family, the local police stopped her car and subjected her to some intensive questioning until they satisfied themselves that Eleanor and her mixed-race son were intimately related and that he had not been kidnapped by the maid.

In South Africa, with its long history of racial segregation, black women with mixed-race children are routinely regarded as prostitutes.

As for religion, there is little that is positive to celebrate: a section of the United Kingdom is still riven by hatred and dispute between Catholic and Protestant, the Middle East is replaying the Crusades of the Middle Ages, while Christian hates and distrusts Muslim, and Sunni fights Shia to the death.

50 years ago, a mixed-race child in the family was regarded as shameful; even in Britain an unofficial colour bar operated.

To our deep shame, a Sixties byelection in the Midlands was won by the candidate whose slogan was “If you want a n***** for a neighbour, vote Labour”.

No happy endings, then? I disagree, which is why I add my posthumous thanks to Dr King for the healing words decent people celebrate to this day.

The arrival of my grandson – seven-month-old Logan Carl Ni Lante Banks (a name combining Scottish clan with African tribe) – for his first visit to Godzone on the speech’s exact anniversary demanded that I write this tribute.

So I, too, have a dream: that my grandson, part scion of a West African nation which is both Muslim and Christian, rejoices in the opportunity his parents have given him.

Along with millions of others of many hues and multiple faiths, young Logan Carl Ni Lante could yet help make one brave visionary’s dream come true . . . Dr King’s dream was never a vision for one man alone.

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