Racism not eradicated, many at discussion say

Benjamin Washington (right) and Victoria Abram watch a video of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech commemorating its 47th anniversary Saturday at Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston. Washington attended the 1963 speech.

Strides have been made in the fight against racism, but much remains to be done to fully realize the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights leader said Saturday.

The occasion was a discussion of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech on its 47th anniversary. "His speech was a great act of courage," said the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, the NAACP's vice president for stakeholder relations and pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church.

A community discussion of the meaning of King's speech then and now occurred at the North Charleston church on Saturday. After watching a video of the speech, those in attendance recalled racism in King's day and their current experiences with it now. Many said racism still exists, but it takes more subtle forms.

Benjamin Washington recalled attending King's landmark 17-minute speech in Washington, D.C., where the civil rights leader presented his vision of a future free of discrimination.

In part, King said, "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."

Washington rode a bus to the Capital to hear the speech. "We couldn't believe the amount of people," he said. Everyone was peaceful and left without incident to return home, he said.

"My feeling was that he was telling the truth," Washington said.

King was standing up to a culture of racism that treated blacks as second-class citizens. The struggle included sit-ins at lunch counters that wouldn't serve blacks, boycotts of bus systems that required blacks to sit in the back and segregated schools.

"That was real. Against that backdrop he gave this powerful message," Rivers said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or pfindlay@postandcourier.com.