The Dream Reborn: Reflections on the 40th Anniversary of King's Assassination

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Sun Mar 30 10:14:32 CDT 2008

From: Steve Chase <steve_chase at>

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The Dream Reborn?

By Steve Chase

This April 4th is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin 
Luther King. I was just 12 when it happened, but I remember vividly the 
heartbreaking day when King was shot down in Memphis while supporting 
striking garbage workers standing up for their right to form a union.

I’m sure many TV news programs will mention the anniversary of King's 
death on the 4th, and some will even play a short sound bite from King's 
famous 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. A few stations might even play a 
clip from the last night of his life, when King gave his speech about 
going up to the mountain top and seeing the Promised Land of an America 
finally and firmly dedicated to peace, economic justice, racial 
equality, and a real grassroots democracy.

Personally, I’m grateful for any attention paid to King and the meaning 
of his activism for us today. One of my favorite stories of people 
honoring King is from about twenty years ago. Back in the 1980s, a local 
coalition of churches, civic groups, and small business leaders 
organized a community organizing campaign in Seattle to get the city 
council to rename a street after King. At the time, the street they 
chose to rename, which was called the Empire Way, ran right through one 
of the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods.

After a few months of grassroots lobbying, they won their campaign and 
got the city council to agree to the name change. After the council’s 
vote, the organizers invited community members to a large Baptist church 
for a victory celebration. That night Vincent Harding, a long-time 
associate of King’s, spoke to the gathered community. He urged everyone 
there to fully embrace the deeper symbolism of what they had just 
accomplished. As he said to them, “You have now changed the road you 
travel from the Empire Way to Martin’s way.”

Isn’t that exactly the challenge we still face today—changing the road 
we travel from the Empire Way to Martin’s Way? As more and more people 
are coming to realize, we need to get active again in what King called 
“the long and bitter—but beautiful struggle” to move away from an empire 
of lies, militarism, illegal wars of aggression, torture, uncontrolled 
corporate greed, growing inequality, and the trampling of the Bill of 
Rights. We need to get active in the effort to create the “Beloved 
Community” that King so often invoked as his deepest, long-range vision.

There are many signs that this shift is beginning to happen. One 
important indicator of renewed movement is the innovative new coalition 
of religious, labor, environmental, student, and civil rights groups 
called Green For All. The coalition is hosting a national conference 
called “The Dream Reborn” in Memphis on the weekend of April 4-6. The 
conference is a very direct example of expanding King’s vision of the 
Beloved Community to include the interests of “We the People” and the 
planet. As Green For All’s conference invitation says:

It's official: in Memphis from April 4-6, Green For All is bringing 
together the practitioners, activists, and communities at the center of 
the emerging green-collar economy. Join us on the 40th Anniversary of 
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. This historic event will 
celebrate his extraordinary life and present positive solutions from 
today's generation of visionary leaders. A bullet killed the dreamer, 
but not the dream. Together, we will create ecological solutions to heal 
the earth while bringing jobs, justice, wealth and health to all our 

Green For All’s mission statement goes on to say:

Green For All has a simple but ambitious mission: to help build a green 
economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. By advocating for a 
national commitment to job training, employment and entrepreneurial 
opportunities in the emerging green economy--especially for people from 
disadvantaged communities--we fight both poverty and pollution at the 
same time. We are committed to securing one billion dollars by 2012 to 
create “green pathways out of poverty” for people in the United States, 
by greatly expanding federal government and private sector commitments 
to “green-collar” jobs.

Now, isn't that a great way to honor King’s memory? I would go to 
Memphis, but I’m hosting an activist training session that weekend on 
Diversity and Coalition-Building right here in Keene, New Hampshire. We 
can’t all go to big national conferences, but we can all contribute to 
the movement for a Beloved Community wherever we live.

Steve Chase is the Director of Antioch University New England’s 
Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program and is the editor of the 
EAOP’s “Well-Trained Activist” blog.


This short essay may be forwarded on to your friends, families, and 
colleagues, as well as any listserves or blogs you think might be 
interested. For more information, contact:

Steve Chase, Ph.D.
Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program Director
and PHD Service Project Coordinator
Department of Environmental Studies
Antioch University New England
40 Avon Street, Keene, NH 03431
Steven_Chase at; 603-283-2336 (office); 603-357-0718 (fax)

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* EAOP's "Well-Trained Activist" Blog:
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no extra cost to you)

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