A personal reflection on a speech that changed the world

Mike Clancy

Speeches that changed the world

Speeches that changed the world

Browsing the local bookstores a few months back I was able to pick up a bargain copy of Speeches that Changed the World. Had I not pulled it from the bookshelf the other day in the course of clearing up and curled up with it for an hour, I would have missed an important anniversary and one that should be remembered.

Next Wednesday, 28 August 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s epochal speech, which put fire into the US civil rights movement that reverberated around the world. It is not too farfetched to say that this was a call to arms that changed the way people looked at one another. Like the Kennedy assassination that happened a few months later, I remember that speech and the effect it had on me.

Growing up in the 1950s, in a white middle-class community on the outskirts of London, we thought we were masters of the world predestined to rule over it. White, Christian and Anglo-Saxon—we did indeed consider ourselves privileged.

I still remember the taunting in the playground to two Jewish boys we had in our primary class. After all, they were different. They did not go to Sunday School as the rest of us did; they were not boy scouts (or, rather, wolf-cubs as we were at that age) and they were excused from our daily worship before school. There were no black people in our community in those days, this was England of the nineteen-fifties and the doors had not yet opened to widespread immigration from the former British colonies but I am sure our attitudes to any black kids that appeared on our patch would have been equally callous, if not more so.

We did not see it as such of course. It was just the way things were in those days. In geography class we were taught that the reason Britain was wealthy was because it was cold. If people did not work hard they would not be able to survive. People from tropical climes did not have to work. It was too hot for them and besides for food, all they had to do was to shin up a coconut tree—and there was a picture in our Grade 3 geography book to prove it.

Why were we this way? Our attitudes towards others did not knowingly come from our parents. As far as I was aware the only prejudice my father harboured was towards Adolf Hitler. He would blow a raspberry any time Hitler was mentioned on the radio or the TV. My mother would scold him but his retort was always that Hitler had taken away six years of his life (my late father was in the RAF). Aside from that we were a perfectly normal family.

 

To read the full blog go to http://thecreativegenie.com.au/writing-2/i-have-a-dream/