Reflections by Cheryl B. Gitttens, Ed.D.
More than 50 years after one of the nation’s most respected leaders of the Civil Rights Movement gave his life to stand up for justice, equality and equal rights in America, we pause again to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his timeless Dream. It is a Dream defining our best America and the hope of all who’ve suffered denied freedoms.
In 2020, we endured an uncharacteristically contagious coronavirus, a prolific political pretension, and loss of laughter, learning and life-affirming touch. Time also turned a page as we lost iconic civil rights leaders of King’s generation: John Lewis and Elijah Cummings, the Reverends C.T. Vivian, Lucille Bridges, Airickca Gordon-Taylor and Joseph Lowery. The Dream must pass into new hands.
Madison can be proud of its role in carrying the baton of civil rights and the Dream. Busloads of campus students traveled to marches and sit-ins in other cities and the South, raising our awareness and understanding of the national Civil Rights Movement. Thousands spontaneously gathered on Bascom Hill when King was assassinated in 1968, left with a baton and recommitted to the Dream. It was a generation that recognized the expansive possibilities of equality for all races, genders, identities, religions and abilities. Madisonians grasped the inherently broad nature of equal rights, fortifying and shifting the hue of the movement’s frontline with a beautiful array of dream keepers.
There is absolutely no way someone won’t be missed in listing local justice and diversity leaders, but a few names among our own historic dream keepers include: Vel Phillips, Ruth Doyle, Rev. James Wright, Velma Bell Hamilton, Betty Franklin Hammonds, Nellie McKay, Jeff Erlanger, LaMarr Billups, Paul Kusuda, Jackie Dewalt, Harry Whitehorse, Milele Chikasa Anana, Shirley Abrahamson, John Odom, and Wade Fetzer.
It’s time to better document the path of those who’ve been guiding the Dream for decades as the baton passes to a new generation. The past 50 years, including recent events of hate and injustice, have shown us the roots of inequity are not only deeply buried in our culture, but woven into our social and institutional genetics. Our approach to civil rights and America’s healing requires an equally pervasive commitment by individuals and organizations working in the countless ways and levels true social change requires. In other words, we are all the keepers of Dr. King’s Dream.
Thankfully, we are a people of hope and resilience committed to continuing the pursuit of equity, inclusion, and justice. Led by lessons learned and renewed energy, we can shoulder the Dream and march on.