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Martin Luther King Jr made his historic speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, exactly 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all of the slaves in the South.
King acknowledged Lincoln's epoch-making action this way:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.
It is 152 years since President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all the slaves in the Confederate States on January 1, 1863 under his powers as Commander in Chief of a nation at war and 52 years since MLK Jr addressed tens of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial.
On January 31 of this year it will be exactly 150 years ago that President Lincoln, working with his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives, corralled the handful of Democratic votes necessary (2/3rds vote required) to push the 13th Amendment to the Constitution through Congress. The motion picture "Lincoln" details Lincoln's strenuous efforts to nail down the last few Democratic votes. The Republican Senate had voted the 13th Amendment through in 1864.
President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment the next day, February 1, and forwarded it to the states for ratification. The necessary number of states for ratification was obtained ion December 6, 1865.
All slaves everywhere in the United States were at last to be legally free and the freedom would not expire with the end of the Civil War. This is the text of the 13th Amendment:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Yet words of freedom were followed by decades of Jim Crow laws in the South and segregation in all too many places. So MLK Jr, so many years later, spoke from his heart at the Lincoln Memorial on that day in August of 1963:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal... I have a dream that my four 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. I have a dream today."
Although MLK Jr was successful in getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law, his dream has yet to be fully realized.
As heirs of the party of Lincoln and MLK Jr, we have an obligation to help that dream come true.
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