Proclaiming the Fierce Urgency of Now
by Virginia R. Smith
DA Toronto members responded to the “fierce urgency of now” by gathering across the street from the U.S. Consulate on the 54th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to reread those momentous words and rediscover their meaning as Americans confront the racism on display at events such as the recent neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A number of speakers brought viewpoints to the gathering based on their personal experiences:
-MC Carol Donohoe talked about how Dr. King’s speech expressed “the ideal we strive” for, which is stated in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” The "I Have a Dream" speech was fundamental to the process of passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, she said.
- Danielle Stampley, vice chairperson of DA’s Toronto chapter, said that “we need his inspiration right now…Dr. King showed us how to resist…His speech is a source of hope.”
- Ed Ungar, vice-chair of DA Canada, was present at Dr. King’s speech on August 28, 1963. When he and other young people travelled from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., they immediately sensed the “universal love in the air…I’ve never felt anything like it before or since…From his first words, we knew that this was something different.” Ungar said that he was “grateful for the opportunity to be there.”
- Dewitt Lee III, treasurer of DA’s Toronto chapter, emphasized that “we have to be honest about how Africans came to the United States” and about “how they are treated” even now. About Dr. King, Lee said that “we need to take his advice…we are the inheritors of his dream and as he said, 'we cannot turn back!'” Lee also cited Emancipation Month in Canada as a time to remember the abolition of slavery in the British Empire on August 1, 1834, and noted the UN General Assembly’s proclamation of 2015 – 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent.
- Ken Sherman, the chair of DA’s Hamilton-Burlington chapter, recalled that he was a pastor of a Black Lutheran Church during the 1960s civil rights movement. On February 6, 1968, he and other members of the organization Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam stood together with Dr. King at a vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Immediately following the assassination, Sherman went to Memphis to support the sanitation workers, and he marched with Coretta Scott King, SCLC and union leaders, and 42,000 others to honor Dr. King on April 8, 1968.
The "I Have a Dream" speech, which has become an oration second only to "The Gettysburg Address" in U.S. history, was then proclaimed. Readers, including Dewitt Lee’s children, Dewitt IV and Chy'Ana, took turns reading portions of the speech. A sense of deep respect spread through the gathering as we once again heard: “Free at last, Free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”
The gathering was well attended by Toronto media, which reported on the event that evening.