Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

48 Years Later, The King Dream Is at Risk

Apr 04, 2016

It is hard to believe that on this very day 48 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. I was just 13 years old at the time, and became youth director of the New York chapter of his organization. I committed myself at an early age to the principles and dream he had articulated throughout his life. As an extensive piece in Vanity Fair this week highlighted, I am beginning to see in the present political climate and imminent departure of President Obama that much of what I and many others fought for in the post-King years is at stake. But as I thought about it more deeply, the actual dream of King itself is at risk. A dream of equality, a dream of economic fairness, of ending militarism and all forms of bias, a dream of workers earning fair wages (which is why King was in Memphis when he was killed) and much more. This very dream hangs in the balance as not only the Presidential race is upon us, but also Senate, Congressional and local races will have a significant impact on which direction this nation heads and whether or not we will keep making King's dream come to fruition or turn our backs on the greatest civil rights leader of our time.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that states may count all residents in drawing election districts, regardless of whether or not they are eligible to vote. This is a key victory for all those who believe in the notion that everyone counts when it comes to our political process. It is decisions such as this that reinforce the notion of why the next Supreme Court Justice is so important for the nation. Decisions deciding the fate of Affirmative Action, women's rights, voting rights and more all hang in the balance. We must be on high alert that while we make sanctimonious statements about the fact that they killed the dreamer, there are those in the Court, as well as in the corridors of Congress and aspiring to be in the White House that would easily kill the dream.

In Sunday's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote a powerful piece titled, "When Whites Just Don't Get It (Part 6)." In the op-ed, he highlighted the variety of ways that Blacks are still routinely discriminated against in everything from job opportunities to housing to fair education and more. "A Black (job) applicant with a clean criminal record did no better than a White applicant who was said to have just been released from 18 months in prison," read one glaring fact in his piece. As Kristof stated, it may not necessarily be overt racism, but rather, unconscious bias among Whites that causes even the ones who believe in equality to act in ways that perpetuate inequality.

Next week, my organization, National Action Network (NAN), will hold its annual convention at the Sheraton New York where both Democratic Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and many others from the civil rights community and clergy will gather as we talk action and concrete plans. It's easy to lay in relative calm and poetically speak of King's dream, but it is much more difficult to get in the trenches and make that dream a reality. It is easier to simply complain about circumstances, but real change requires real strategy and organization. And it's easy to become apathetic and uninvolved, but if we did that, well then nothing would ever change or move forward.

Dr. King once stated: "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable .. every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

It may be nearly 50 years since this great civil rights advocate was taken from us in such a vicious way, but we cannot and must not forget his vision for justice for all of mankind. At a time when so much of his work and the advancements we have made are being challenged once again, we must remain steadfast in our resolve to keep fighting for fairness and equality.

We meet every April purposely because we want to send a signal that this may be the month that you killed the dreamer, but the children of the dream move on and carry his legacy. Don't just memorialize King; make the dream a reality.

Join us next week at NAN's convention. Please visit for more information.