Colin Powell: A mirror in the face of America

From a tribute by the US Secretary of State to Martin Luther King, broadcast on NBC TV
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The Independent Online

I was not in the United States at the time that Dr King gave that famous speech. I was in Vietnam. I had been there for eight months. And there was no television, there was no cable, there was no radio, so I wasn't really aware of the speech.

But it meant a lot to me because my wife, at that time, was in Birmingham, Alabama, with our infant son, Michael, and Birmingham was a hotbed of tension and violence, as the people of Birmingham, the leaders of the State of Alabama, were cracking down on Negroes, as we used to be called, who dared to demand their rights and their freedom.

For the first 80 years of our history, or thereabouts, we had a wonderful Constitution, a wonderful Declaration, that had no meaning for people who were black whatsoever; then we had a great Civil War that was supposed to put that all behind us, and then reconstruction came and it ended. Reconstruction was cut off and went back to almost slavery. And then it took another almost hundred years before the work began again, and Dr King was the leader of that work, and many others who stood alongside of him.

And that speech crystallised everything. What did it do? It put a mirror in the face of America. It said: "Look at yourself. Look at where we are now compared to what the power of the Declaration and the Constitution say. Look at where we are almost a hundred years after the Civil War. Is this where we want to be, America?"

And the answer was no. It was not a speech of hatred. It was a speech of reconciliation. It was a speech of pride in his country. It was a speech that was directed at white people, black people, all God's children, as he said. And we must never forget that that dream is not yet fulfilled. I am here as the Secretary of State, a black man. Other prominent blacks are all over this country. We've achieved a lot in those 40 years.

But there are still young black men and women who cannot yet touch the reality of that dream, and that's why, 40 years later, we must rededicate ourselves to not only what Dr King said, what our founding fathers said when they wrote the Constitution and wrote the Declaration. That's all he's asked for. That's all anyone asks for.