Has King's dream been realized? (video)
Aug. 27, 2013 at 3:27 a.m.
The deep Southern drawl rang out over the sea of people standing not only in the shadow of the U.S. President who once made their people free but also in the shadow of a man who would soon take that freedom one step further.
Millions turned on their television sets, including born and raised Victoria native Laura Sanders, who watched in near silence as the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. crackled through the speakers.
The booming voice began.
"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation," King opened, a moment that - 50 years ago Wednesday - was a vocal promise toward social and economic equality.
But was King's dream realized?
Sanders said freedom did ring but not loud enough.
Letting freedom ring
Sanders was 22 when she heard King's voice echo over the pond of water at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. She and five other Victorians sang and recorded songs of freedom and sent them to those attending the March on Washington.
Hearing all the songs, including theirs, as nearly a quarter of a million people marched toward the foot of the monument was breathtaking, the 72-year-old said.
"That's when people began to wake up and realize there is more to life than what we have been led to believe," she said.
Sanders felt the segregation - she lived it in Victoria. She remembers side and backdoor entrances, separate seating, drinking fountains, pools and schools.
Black people were, at best, janitors, housekeepers, cooks and dishwashers.
"We were naive enough in many cases to think we didn't have it so bad," she said.
In that crowd of a marching mass of mostly black people was Casey Hayden, a graduate of Patti Welder High School.
Hayden is white, which was a somewhat uncommon sight at the march, but Hayden did not care.
Growing up in Victoria, Hayden saw exactly what Sanders saw.
She remembers being a junior in high school when she grasped what the government and society was telling her.
"I was insulted and took it personally," she said. "It never occurred to me that it would be a limitation placed on me, my own freedom to associate with people."
So she marched.
But eighth-grader Viola Holman had no idea what the speech meant at the time.
A civil march demanding equality; well, that's not the way Malcolm X would have done things, Holman said.
Holman, born and raised in Cuero, may have been too young to fully understand King's message.
To her, when the schools desegregated in the late 60s, she thought it was wonderful.
"I was glad to be going to the white school," she said. "It provided me with the right education."
Sanders, Hayden and Holman were all part of a new frontier of America.
An America where, as King wanted, they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
More like a daydream
"Don't send me any n------," the person over the phone said.
Sanders, who worked her way up to become executive director for Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent, stayed silent for a second.
The phone call made her realize that, years after the speech, not everyone wanted to dream like King.
Still, Sanders had worked her way up from being a cook to being a custodian at Victoria's school district.
So Sanders did the only thing she could do for the client.
She addressed the caller in a civil manner and sent two of the best black applicants and two white applicants.
"They didn't know who was on the other end of the phone," she said.
The client picked a black applicant.
Victories have been small in the way of economic equality, Sanders said.
In Victoria, many black families still live in poverty, and many others still fall into the never-ending cycle of crime and drugs, she added.
Racial discrimination has mostly stopped, but there is still racial profiling, which is a hindrance to the cause, she said.
Sanders said she's not sure when exactly the shift for social equality happened, but she's glad it did.
"We began to see our worth," she said. "I don't think we really understood how far-reaching that message was going to go."
Hayden said King's message was successful but believes the economic equality, like fair wages, has yet to happen.
She wanted the dream.
"The civil rights has happened, but the economic rights didn't, and the people at the bottom are really suffering," she said. "We failed."
Meanwhile, Holman was having her own bout with racism.
In the early '70s, her family stopped by a restaurant to eat, and when her parents began walking toward the back entrance, she hollered out, "No, that's been done away with."
Holman was taking the front entrance.
They sat down, and the stares began; they were never waited on, and the utensils were dirty.
She demanded the same treatment as all the other patrons.
She had the money, she was paying, but the treatment was still unfair.
Fighting for equality became more difficult after both King and Malcolm X were assassinated.
It was not until she was hired into Cuero school district by James Rabe that she understood what King meant.
"He said 'Viola, fight from within. You can't fight against the system from the outside.'"
And so, King's dream continued.
Still have a dream
One day, Sanders' generation and the baby boomers will be gone, and maybe then is when equality for all will truly be achievable; that's Sanders' hope, at least.
She notices her great-grandchildren do not see color.
They walk amongst everyone. They graduate high school, they go off to college, and they are afforded the exact same rights as every person next to them.
The reality is that the dream is always being realized.
"We still have a long way to go," she said. "We're not where we should be as a people."
On this 50th anniversary, people need to realize what King spoke of was civil rights for all, not just blacks, Hayden said.
King's speech was about race, religion, people with disabilities and even the latest fight for the gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender community, she said.
"The way I view it is, it's a civil rights issue," she said. "It's just about citizenship. It's a question whether everybody is really a citizen."
For the past 30 years, she's exposed lower income kids - white, black and Hispanic - to the arts.
What America is realizing, Holman said, is that the power to change America wasn't going to be because of the efforts of one man but because of the efforts from themselves.
"I have learned so much about mankind and humankind and how people are discriminated against for being different," she said.