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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream a Reality?

Aired August 28, 2003 - 20:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: A quarter million Americans gathered in Washington to hear Dr. King's dream. Now, 40 years later, is it a reality?
Joining me tonight with their insights on the dreams and the progress of race in America, civil rights activist Julian Bond, who was a student of Dr. King, was with him at the march on Washington. And University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Eric Dyson, a widely published author and commentator on issues of race in America. Thank you both for being with us tonight.

JULIAN BOND, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Thank you.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you for having us.

ZAHN: Mr. Bond, when you were at that time Lincoln Memorial that day, I understand there were some very specific parts of the speech that captured your imagination. What were they?

BOND: Well, I had heard the "I have a dream" portion before he used them time and again. But what struck with me long after, and even today, is the part about the broken promise. He said America made a promise and has broken the promise.

He talked about a check return for insufficient funds. Jesse Jackson at the commemoration of the anniversary talked about a check with stop payment. So it's clear that Dr. King's dream has not been realized 40 years later. We're still looking for that promise to be kept and for that dream to come true.

ZAHN: Mr. Dyson, would you acknowledge that Mr. -- that Dr. Martin Luther King might be proud of some of the advances that have been made by African-Americans? He couldn't help, I would think, feel pride in the advancement of people like Secretary of State Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, the hundreds of men and women of African- American dissent running companies.

DYSON: No question. I think Mr. Bond wouldn't deny that either. I think what his point is, however, is that the promissory note about which Dr. King spoke is still true today. That is, it's unfulfillment. The legacy of apartheid remains with us informally, if not formally.

Though the legal restrictions against black mobility have been removed, the informal ones continue to persist. While Dr. King would applaud the fact that Mr. Bush appointed Secretary Powell and Ms. Rice, Dr. Rice, he would also be critical of them because skin color could not give them a pass. To have a black face in a high place doesn't necessarily represent the race.

So Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to move to the content of character and the content of one's thinking and identity. So what's more important is not the skin color. We would rather have a progressive white person in the Supreme Court to represent the interests of African-American people as opposed to a black man with black skin. So Dr. King saw the true merit of having a progressive identity as well as skin color.

ZAHN: Mr. Bond, do you agree with the professor's assessment that there are still vestiges of apartheid evident today informally?

BOND: Oh, of course. If you just look at the difference between black and white life chances, median family income, life expectancy, all of those kinds of things, and look at black and white levels of unemployment, the gap is as wide today as it was in 1963. Black unemployment is doubled out of white unemployment. It was true then, it's true today.

And so this clearly promise unfulfilled a dream yet realized. We still have a long way to go. Nobody denies that progress has been made. But you know in 1963 we used to say about Ralph Bunch (ph), who was at the U.N., that the food he eats doesn't fill my stomach.

Well, we say the same thing about Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Happy to see them there. But just because they are your skin folks, doesn't mean they're you're kin folks.

ZAHN: Julian Bond, Michael Eric Dyson, thank you for both of your perspectives this evening.

DYSON: Thank you.

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