In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a 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. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds. 

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Michael Frett, Hallowell’s Ward 2 city councilor and former director of the state Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards, believes when Dr. King spoke on Aug. 28,1963, he was appealing to the soul and integrity of America.

Hallowell City Councilor Michael Frett, who only took off his mask for photos, poses Friday on Water Street in downtown Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“It was his view that the civil rights movement had reached the point where all could finally agree that economic and civil liberties were ‘unalienable rights,’ to which all people were entitled. While I and millions of others, wholeheartedly accept this as a given, there are still many Americans who prefer to parse the meaning of those words, and exclude ‘others.’ Recent events, in my opinion, represent, among other things, a culmination of their position on the matter.

“In his speech, Dr. King referenced the Negro people. I submit that the intent of his words extends to all who seek the ‘American Experience;’ … raising a family, if desired; pursuing honest employment; acquiring a decent place to live; or, exploring personal pursuits. I know and have known, many wonderful people who sought such dreams. Some have achieved theirs, others are still working on it, and some haven’t a clue as to where or how to reach theirs. Nonetheless, that’s what dreams are all about, and it’s all OK.

“I wish Dr. King’s dream were today’s reality, but sadly, it’s not. I look around and see that today’s inequities are based not solely on the color of one’s skin, but are steeped in regionalism, culture, sexual orientation, political affiliation and economic status, to name a few. Intolerance, ignorance and self-centeredness are true roadblocks to achieving, for all, a guarantee to those ‘unalienable rights,’ that we hold so dear. As great as we perceive this country to be, there is still a ways to go, before we’re willing to judge a person solely on ‘the content of their character.’

“While I am disheartened that full equality of treatment toward others has not yet occurred in our country, I’m optimistic that it may yet be achieved,” he said. “This is because of the countless numbers of people I know, and have known who, like myself, whether at their employment, during community gatherings, or while engaged in social activation, endeavor in many ways to ensure that all people, are treated with dignity and fairness.

“As simplistic as that may sound, I submit, it’s not a bad place for making a good start,” Frett said.

— Sam Shepherd, Kennebec Journal

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