African-American history in the United States has been recognized annually since 1926, first as “Negro History Week” and later as “Black History Month.” Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian and journalist pioneered the celebration originally designated for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The week of recognition became extended to the full month of February as of 1976.
In modern America, no celebration of African American History Month would be complete without reflecting upon the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Without doubt, his work in the area of race relations, justice and human rights has had a rippling effect upon our country and the hearts and minds of every fair thinking citizen. Attorneys understand how words can win a case and improve people’s lives. Dr. King taught us how words can change a nation and the world. On August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King said:
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 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 one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my 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.”
Dr. King’s powerful words continued during his entire time on this earth, including his last address on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he said:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter to me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
While it is clear that we have not yet reached the “Promised Land” and there is still much work to be done, no one can doubt that our country has come a long way toward achieving the “dream” envisioned by Dr. King. Especially, for those of us who were children of the 1960’s, we can attest to how the pursuit that “dream” has reshaped our government, our courthouse, and all almost all facets of life. While celebrating African American History Month, we stand in awe and are grateful for the peaceful revolution championed by Dr. King.
* John P. Paone, Jr. is an attorney practicing divorce and family law with the Law Office of Paone, Zaleski, Brown & Murray at 120 Maple Avenue, Red Bank.