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“And the Dream Shall Never Die”

You’ve no doubt heard it… a powerful speech inserted into a PBS promotion: “The hope still lives” — deep, inspired words — “And the dream shall never die.” It’s the recognizable voice of Ted Kennedy, whose oration to the 1980 Democratic Convention carries into this time and place, when dreams and hopes are again welling up in our hearts.

And who had that dream, a dream that bellowed through loudspeakers and carried the voice of a 34 year old southern preacher — 34! — to the ears of Arlingtonians gathered 44 years ago along our side of the legendary Potomac River?

Martin Luther King had once been denied the right to address an anti-war group at Arlington National Cemetery. But in 1963 nothing could hold back his voice: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” “With this faith,” he concluded, “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

Recently we celebrated the birthday of Dr. King; a celebration considered a wild pipedream when it was proposed by Congressman John Conyers at the time of Dr. King’s death in 1968, just two months before your correspondent and Mary Ann Templeton walked the aisle of Little Flower Church in Springfield, Illinois.

By 1983, those of us working on Capitol Hill saw Stevie Wonder walking alongside fellow staff members, lobbyists and members of Congress under the Cannon Building. “Have you ever seen Stevie Wonder,” my boss said to me; “Well, there he is.” Amazing.

He had almost single-handedly, with his “Happy Birthday” song to Dr. King, brought about the legislation that arch-conservative Ronald Reagan grudgingly signed into law: the Martin Luther King National Holiday.

And to think that just around that time, walking to the Pentagon along Columbia Pike, I noticed a sign in the window of a local business. “This office will be closed in honor of Lee-Jackson Day.”

That’s Lee, as in Robert E.; and Jackson, as in Stonewall.

Yes, we’ve come a long way from that 1963 day, when we baby boomers were about to begin another high school year and in Arlington echoed the voice of the most transformative figure of our generation. We watched it on television, never dreaming we would end up here, across the river from where it happened.

While it all seemed to crumble with our fallen president on November 22nd of that year, Dr. King kept dreaming, working and believing. He marched amidst racists and Nazis. He dared to challenge northern leaders in addition to southern demagogues. And he stood valiantly for an end to the pointless war of that era: Vietnam. Finally, he marched with those whom society would have placed at the bottom of our laborers: sanitation workers; for whom he gave his life.

“Longevity has its place,” he wearily told a hopeful, crowded and hot Memphis audience. “But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will..”

This was a man who walked among us; whose supporters never stopped believing and working on his behalf.

So we have this marvelous national holiday, just passed. And we have a chance in our daily lives to fulfill this young preacher’s dream, as Senator Kennedy said 28 years ago: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Let us keep it alive in all that we do; because so much can be done, if we would just believe in that dream, and then act on it.

Nick Penning (www.penningthoughts.com) is an Arlington freelance writer. His column, Penning Thoughts, appears in alternating editions of The Arlington (Va.) Connection.

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