WASHINGTON — Forty-five years after Martin Luther King Jr. bellowed his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the "sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent," Americans are celebrating King’s dream with renewed vigor on the eve of the inauguration of the nation’s first black president.
Annette Woods, a member of the civil rights-minded Newtown Florist Club, is in Washington, D.C., today celebrating King’s memory. Tuesday, she will attend the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.
From the nation’s capital, Woods said this Martin Luther King Jr. day has taken on a new significance with Obama coming into the White House. She said the holiday is more exciting than ever.
"I think people of all races coming together and voting for (a black man) for his values is what Martin dreamed of," Woods said. "I think it’s amazing, too, that all of the races have come together to elect Obama as president."
Woods said she’s especially thrilled that on this holiday the future of this nation’s racial dynamics looks bright.
"I think this was a huge step, especially with the younger generation," Woods said of Obama’s election.
"They didn’t experience a lot of the negative things that were said and happened in the past. They can take this thing and run with it. They don’t have all the negative things to consume their heart," she said.
Former Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack said she’ll be flying to D.C. today to celebrate the holiday and attend Tuesday’s inauguration.
"I think it’s two important events happening back to back and one could not have happened without the other," she said.
"Dr. Martin Luther King’s movement made this possible," she said of Obama’s inauguration.
Arturo Corso, who is also in D.C. for the inauguration, said he feels people are trembling with excitement at seeing some of King’s dreams of racial equality in the White House come to fruition. He said Obama’s election restores the world’s image of the United States as an example of equality.
"I see an energy in the face of young people, and minority adults in particular," Corso said. "This time, for all of this pushing, we’re moving this mountain more than we’ve ever moved it before. With this new president, I think there’s more joy because we’re seeing the fruits of our labor.
"This is a whole new era. ... But we’ll have to keep working every day to make sure we don’t regress. I think there’s a lot of work to do to keep the dream alive."
Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, said as she recalls her days at the all-black Fair Street School in the 1950s, two issues stand out about the inequality that existed in our country then.
"The biggest thing back then was brutality and education. There were a lot of bad things that happened back then," she said from a friend’s house in Washington.
But Bush, in D.C. for the inauguration, said there’s more work to be done before King’s dream of racial equality can be achieved and "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a might stream."
"I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet," she said. "There’s still racial profiling and our schools are not equal."
Woods agrees that while Obama’s election marks swift progress in America’s civil rights movement, efforts toward equality must continue to march forward.
"There’s still some who aren’t there yet, who aren’t willing to work together for the good of our country," she said. "I think some people are afraid of the times, and I think it’s going to take people overcoming that fear for us to really see the dream."
Woods pointed to the racial gaps in student achievement and financial well-being as areas where the dream has yet to be fulfilled.
Thousands of Americans will come together in D.C. and in their hometowns today to pursue King’s dream through a day of public service. As part of Obama’s initiative "Renew America Together," the Corporation for National Community Service is holding a national day of service in Washington, D.C.
Corso, as well as Gainesville resident Marsha Stringer, will be among the crowd that descends on Washington today to take on public service assignments. Instead of having a day off, volunteers will have a day on and will repair schools, run clothes drives for the homeless and clean up the streets of the capital.
More than 10,000 service events are being held all over the country today, including multiple service programs in Hall County.
The American Red Cross is holding numerous blood drives in the area. A grounds beautification project is taking place at Wauka Mountain Elementary School. There’s a clean-up program being held on Lake Lanier and Goodwill of North Georgia is holding a clothes drive in Buford.