EDWARDS AFB – Like a page out of history, members of the Edwards community joined in a commemorative march from the 412th Test Wing Headquarters to Chapel 1. Their message was one of racial justice and equality as they remembered the life, faith and dream of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The banner they carried read, “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A day on, not a day off.”
In the chapel, Linda Bowling and the Edwards AFB Gospel Service Praise Team sang several of King’s favorite hymns. Airman 1st Class Ruth Guzman, Senior Airman Ernest Vang, Master Sgt. Jarrod Miller and Master Sgt. Bryce Davis each read a section of King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech.
August 28, 1963, with more than 250,000 eyes on him, King shared his dream at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
According to Chaplain (Capt.) Graham Baily, King’s speech was not only the heart and emotional cornerstone of the march, but a testament to the transformative power of one man and the magic of his words.
“Fifty years later it can still move people to tears and its most famous lines are still recited by children and sampled by musicians. The four words “I have a dream” have become shorthand to Dr. King’s commitment to freedom, social justice and non-violence,” said Baily.
King declared that they had come to the nation’s capital to “cash a check” written in the Declaration of Independence. That promise was that all men would be guaranteed the “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In his speech he wrote:
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”
King continued to hold on to his dream that one day he would see racial equality. That his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Baily concluded that King’s speech was powerful because it saved the Civil Rights Movement and ended racism as the “respectable status quo.”
For James Harris, it was the inspiration not to give up on his dream. Eventually Harris became the first black NFL starting quarterback and today he’s the executive personnel director for the Detroit Lions.
But, what Baily found “really amazing” is that it almost didn’t happen. The night prior to delivering his speech, King was visibly nervous and uncomfortable with his notes, so he went to his aides for guidance.
One of his advisers told him to not use the lines about “I have a dream” because they were trite, cliché and overused.
King returned to his hotel where he struck those lines from the manuscript. The next day, there was a gospel singer in the crowd, Mahalia Jackson, who had heard him speak before.
Jackson began to shout, “Tell them about the dream Martin! Tell them about the dream!”
“All of a sudden, his demeanor changed and he said those profound words, “I have a dream” and everything changed said Baily. “It was the dream stuff that changed the world.”
Baily believes that there are practical applications from King’s speech for today. In 2015, the speech is a reminder that there is no limit to what you can accomplish.
“You can as Dr. King did, do justice love mercy and walk humbly with your God,” said Baily. “You can dream big, you can dream bold – you can shoot for the moon and grab some stars along the way. Forgive the cliché; you can aim high – hoorah! Air Force!”
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Brendon O’Dowd in his closing remarks, asked the congregation to leave with two things – there is always a moral law, a standard that must be adhered to; and there is always hope.
King said in a letter from a Birmingham, Alabama, jail, “One has not only a legal, but moral responsibility to obey just laws, but conversely one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
In Baily’s opinion, King’s legacy is our legacy.
“That’s who we are as Americans, that’s who we are as an Air Force – a people who are committed to justice.”
Martin Luther King Dr. Day will be observed officially Jan. 19.