Local News

40 Years After 'Dream' Speech, Fight For Racial Equality Continues

Posted August 28, 2003

— How far have we come since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech? Some say the fight for racial equality still isn't over.

On that blazing hot August day in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dared a nation to change. Martha Freeman of Raleigh was part of history when she stood a few feet from the podium on the National Mall.

"I was so close I could have touched the thing if I had reached out," she said. "What surprised me most was to see so many white men and women crying."

The men's white and men's colored restroom doors from old Commercial National Bank hang in the Raleigh City Museum.

"If you were meeting a white person, you would have to move aside and let them pass," Freeman said.

State Auditor Ralph Campbell remembers the parade of buses and the power of King's words. Campbell, the son of Raleigh's NAACP president at the time, also remembers the death threats his family received. He marched against the segregated Howard Johnson's in Raleigh and the Ambassador Theatre downtown.

"We would have to climb three flights of steps to end up going and paying the same price to go and see a picture, but you were never allowed to go into the main entrance," he said.

Just three years before King's "I Have A Dream" speech, Campbell's brother, Bill, was the first African-American to integrate Wake County schools. Bill Campbell also later served as mayor of Atlanta.

Forty years later, most restaurants, schools and neighborhoods are integrated. There are statues, streets and a national holiday all honoring King.

"It's good to see that things have come this far, but we have a long way to go, but we have to help ourselves in getting there," Freeman said.

When asked whether King would be encouraged or discouraged about how things are now, Campbell said he would be pleased to a degree.

"He would also temper the challenge that we have not come full circle," Campbell said.

In 1963, there were no African-Americans serving in the state Legislature. Today, there are 24.


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