On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and proclaimed that 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation "the colored American is still not free." He said that he was there to cash in a promissory note on the Declaration of Independence: That every American is guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He saw no sign that these rights were protected for the 200,000 black Americans gathered in the nation's capital. He knew the distress of the Negro being denied a safe haven in which to develop a business, find employment, or receive a quality public education. He knew the shackles still worn by folks such as my mom and dad, who grew up in the Jim Crow South. Between 1882 and 1963, more than 3,000 blacks died at the end of a lynch mob's rope. Dr. King said there would be no rest "until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights." He urged his audience to keep the struggle alive "until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream," and to go home knowing that somehow their plight would change-because he still had a dream. This is the 100th anniversary of that historical "I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. King. So before I lay this old head down for perhaps the last time on this earth, I must ask you, my dear diary, "Did the dream come true?" Is the colored American free? Is there evidence of our creed, "that all men are created equal?" Do "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners" break bread together on the red hills of Georgia? Do our children live in a nation where they are not "judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? More than this old mind can remember, you would know. You have recorded my history, as an African-American woman growing up after Dr. King avowed his dream. Flipping back through your pages, I see recorded that I was 12 years old when Dr. King was assassinated. I read and vividly recall how his death drove a stake of anguish deep into the heart of every colored man, woman, and child. Sorrow expressed itself with fire. I see in your pages a nation divided not only between blacks and whites-but torn by war in Southeast Asia, a generation gap, and the breakdown of moral landmarks and covenants. Dr. King once stated that although the government could not legislate morality, it could regulate behaviors. He said, "It can't make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me." But what you document is that some of the civil-rights policies passed in the 1960s tried to force the federal government to do both. America was truly trying to redress the problems of racism. But black leaders depended heavily on the courts and the Congress to atone for the social ills confronting their communities. Court rulings ordered the states to integrate racially their institutions. And improper responses by the states often led to federal control. In education, the Supreme Court ruled that the public schools in several cities had to be racially balanced. This decision led many states to pass laws to force busing, which sparked an exodus of whites from the public schools. In 1979 Congress established a federal Department of Education. In commerce, the federal government ordered large businesses with government contracts to remedy the effects of past job discrimination though affirmative-action programs. By the end of the 1970s these programs had escalated to demands for timetables, racial quotas, and preferences. In welfare, politicians began to divert large amounts of tax dollars toward subsidizing housing and medical care for the needy, and to give money and food to unemployed women raising children without husbands. The more the white majority grumbled, the more minorities felt entitled. Blacks were entitled to forced access. Women were entitled to reproductive rights. White males were the enemy. All of the institutions of Western culture, including its religion, came under attack. Moral relativism seized the media, academia, the courts, and the government. Immorality captured our inner cities. "Safety nets" and entitlement programs replaced natural consequences for reckless or irresponsible choices. Cynicism confronted any and all conservative reactions. The mantra of Dr. King's speech was no longer "how do we live in unity" but "how do we redistribute wealth." Ignored were the facts that the educational and economic disparities between blacks and whites had narrowed significantly. Special-interest groups remained determined to reshape public policy to "guarantee equal rights" and "level playing fields." Racism and discrimination became buzzwords for social programs and political power. By the 1990s, although the majority of blacks had been integrated into mainstream America, the nation was oozing with racial polarization and moral division. Seventy percent of African-Americans were working hard and earning well, on the order of $500 billion annually. But the erosion of traditional values coupled with welfare benefits created an environment for illegitimacy to skyrocket. Seven out of 10 black babies were born outside of marriage. One in 50 African-American men was HIV positive. It looked like the entire American dream had turned into a nightmare. "Murder in the First" read a headline from those years, reporting that a 6-year-old had shot to death a fellow first-grader. "A Sad Reality" read another, about a 14-year-old arbitrarily gunning down his classmates. Every week, 35,000 women went into abortion clinics to destroy the babies in their wombs, yet "bubble zones" and harsh prosecutions of pro-lifers kept the general public from openly discussing this horrific tragedy. Could Dr. King's dream survive this unraveling of America's culture and security? Dr. King said that his dream was deeply rooted in the American dream. Yet the real challenge to that dream in the 1990s was not racism but a culture locked in moral free-fall. Did the light of his dream go out? The presidential election of 2000 offered new hope that America could get back on course spiritually; many of us hoped that this might give new energy to Dr. King's dream. We were at a crossroads, and the new president truly wanted to reincorporate into government the biblical precepts of America's founders. He promoted faith-based, grassroots initiatives to address problems of the poor. He seemed determined to root out unproductive social services and to fertilize the land for "Armies of Compassion," which could do more than government could to curtail drug addiction, homelessness, and welfare dependency. But the original initiative failed in heated legislative and legal battles, and the fruit of relativism ripened. By 2005, poor black women were dropping dead like flies and black men were withering up like raisins as the AIDS virus took its toll. Black pastors cried prostrate on their faces in repentance, provoking white pastors to groan for the sins of their fathers and to repent for abandoning Dr. King's dream. A national respect for faith in God was renewed, and humbled people of all skin colors and backgrounds began to help the needy and broken in their local neighborhoods. Predominately white suburban church congregations started to adopt predominately black urban churches and to establish schools and family-crisis centers. After long and hard days of work, these sons of former slave owners and sons of former slaves broke bread together, even out in the red hills of Georgia. Over the next 10 years, every community built a crisis pregnancy center for abandoned women, an adoption referral center for orphans, a retirement home for widows, and a hospice for homeless people with incurable sicknesses and diseases. The majority of churches offered one-on-one counseling for employment, home economics, addiction referrals, and anger management. In 2013 more private money became available for charity work due to unprecedented legislation authorizing individuals to divert their Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts. Under this legislation, black Americans for the first time in history accumulated significant amounts of transferable assets. Capitalists and the free market were no longer viewed as enemies but as partners. In 2023 welfare offices and abortion clinics around the country began to close for lack of business. In 2043 the federal government disbanded its Department of Health and Human Services. Things had me worried many times, my diary. We came close to race wars and bloody cultural conflicts. But I'm glad I didn't know how it would end; that concern, I think, kept me working, kept me rolling up my sleeves. I'm glad that my future was not known to me. After years of drugs and welfare despair, I was born again with an unwavering expectation that the Lord could make prophetic dreams come true, and the hope that He could use me to help do it. Dr. King's dream was rooted in the prophetic dream of America. And although the very presence of blacks in America demonstrated the fact that our nation's founders were but flawed men, my personal hope rested in the Creator of their prophetic vision. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," they said. "That all men are created equal." Yes, my dear diary, I finally understand that faith is the evidence man needs to recognize these truths. America's founders could have just as well said, "We hold these truths by faith," because it is only confidence in the unseen that makes man both equal and free. Now that my eyes have opened to the eternal, I can see the reality of both dreams.
-Star Parker is the founder and president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, a nonprofit organization that promotes faith-based and free-market solutions on issues of race and poverty