Nearly 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the greatest speeches in American history. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before thousands assembled, King, with his characteristic vigor, shared his dream for America.
While we all know King‘s dream - breaking “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination” to transform “the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood” - many seem to have forgotten its source. It was, he said, “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream,” one embedded in “the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
That adds a note of irony to the storm that broke out two weeks ago over the GOP-led reading of the Constitution in the House of Representatives. “Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person,” opined the New York Times, highlighting the contempt many elites harbor for our founding documents.
It’s a tired refrain - the Founders were racists, the Declaration didn’t really mean all men, the Constitution is pro-slavery. It’s also a gross distortion of our history - as King well knew when he invoked the promise that “all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” at the heart of the Founding.