Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered on August 28, 1963, during the massive March on Washington in which about 250,000 participated. It eloquently expressed the optimism of Civil Rights activists at a time when all the efforts of the previous decades finally seemed to be paying off in progressive legislation toward justice and equality.
But then came several harsh new realities. There were some groups, notably the Black Panthers and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who were impatient with the results of the Movement and wanted to see more massive changes take place as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, sniping from the FBI and conservative pressure groups turned more personal. Also, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War escalated dramatically, and Dr. King’s opposition to the conflict cost him and the Movement significant support.
In an interview originally aired June 11, 1967, just ten months before his assassination, Dr. King expressed his concerns in this way:
“The time when I gave that speech was during a great period of hope, . . . part of a solid decade of hope. . . . But I must confess that the dream that I had that day has in many forms turned into a nightmare. I’m not one to lose hope; I keep on hoping, and I still have faith in the future. But I’ve had to analyze many things over the years, and I would say in the last few months, I’ve gone through a lot of soul-searching, . . . and I’ve come to see that we have many difficult days ahead.” *
Now, you have to remember that Dr. King was a Baptist minister. And, in the above photo, the two men standing with him on the motel balcony shortly before he was shot were also Baptist ministers (Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy). When Baptist ministers think about dreams, it’s about Biblical dreams and some of the great sermons they’ve heard about dreams and dreamers.
This past Sunday, another Baptist minister, Rev. Chris Bourne, Pastor of Second Baptist Church of Monrovia, gave the keynote address at our local Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. He read the passage from Genesis 37, about Joseph’s famous dream, in which he prophetically saw all his brothers bowing before him. Joseph told them about it, and they remembered it with a smoldering resentment. When he approached them as they were overseeing the family flock of sheep, they said to one another, “Look here comes the dreamer!” Pastor Chris suggested that a new generation of dreamers are coming along to continue the work of Dr. King and the others. We may not take them seriously, saying, “Look, here come the dreamers!”
Pastor Chris reminded us that Joseph’s brothers put Joseph in an empty pit until some foreign traders came along, and they sold him into slavery. It was many years later, when Joseph had risen to a position of power and prestige in Egypt, that his brothers actually bowed before him and the dream was fulfilled. Pastor Chris pointed out that the pit humiliation and enslavement were not part of Joseph’s original dream; the dream looked beyond the nightmare obstacles he would have to face, to the ultimate fulfillment.**
The same was true of Dr. King’s dream, which he envisioned dramatically in his 1963 speech. He foresaw the ultimate fulfillment, but God graciously kept him from seeing many of the hardships he would have to suffer along the way, to the point of giving his life.
The same may be true of your God-given dream. He’s put it before you as a vision of what he wants to do through you. Maybe right now you’re in a pit of doubt and despair. Maybe you feel enslaved by circumstances. Maybe you feel that people mock you, saying, “Look, here comes the dreamer!” Maybe at times the dream seems more like a nightmare.***
But, keep believing that your dream has been given to you by God, and he will see it through to its final fulfillment.
— Pastor George Van Alstine
** For the entire story about Joseph and his brothers, read Genesis 37 through 50.
*** Psalm 91 can be a great comfort to people going through fears and anxieties, what the Psalmist describes as “terror by night.”