On the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose dream moved a nation, Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, reflected on the fate that befell another dreamer.
" 'And when they saw him from afar, even before he had come near to them, they conspired against him to slay him,' " said 7 Mfume, quoting from the biblical story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis.
" 'And they said, one to another, "Behold it is the dreamer that D comes. Come now, therefore, and slay him and cast him into ; some old pit. And when asked, we will say that some evil beast ? has devoured him, and we will see then what becomes of his ; dream." '. . ."
Speaking at the annual Federation of Maryland Teachers tribute to King at the Omni Hotel in downtown Baltimore yesterday, the congressman invoked the slain civil rights leader's dream of justice and equality.
But Mfume warned that the nation has fallen far short of achieving those goals, and the ideals expressed by its founders.
And he leveled sharp criticism against "an administration that speaks platitudes about doing better, but persists in doing worse.
"Bankrupt policies of the Reagan administration over a period of eight years spawned a national environment that encouraged discrimination and repudiated opportunity," said Mfume. "The decade of the '80s bore witness to an unconscionable retreat from the steady advances of civil rights."
Mfume called it "a national tragedy and an national disgrace that, after 200 years of progress, the goal of racial justice is receding, not advancing."
He cited the high infant mortality rates in Baltimore and other urban centers; the fact that black Americans rank low on the earning scale; and attacks on affirmative action by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Mfume acknowledged that the nation's ethnic diversity "has produced the most successful experience of democracy in the world.
But he said that differences of race, religion and national origin have at times "produced an ugly alienation instead of producing harmony."
Mfume noted that racial divisions have bedeviled America since before the founding of the republic. He asserted that the moral principles of the founders were compromised by their acceptance of slavery.
"Everything the founding fathers claimed for humanity, in the name of morality, they contradicted then in their attitudes toward, and in their treatment of the descendants of Africa and of the native inhabitants of this land," he said.
Slavery, the genocide of native Americans and the annexation of Hispanic territories "made the birth of the American nation an iniquitous conception," Mfume said.
"It was conceived in hypocrisy, and dedicated to the false and twisted proposition that white men were somehow superior to non-white men, and therefore entitled to enslave them and oppress them and destroy them."
Mfume used King's example to issue a call for action against racism and discrimination, and voiced his hope that progress could yet be made.
"I have not given up on the American idea or on the American possibility," he said. "And I ask you not to give up also."
The congressman also noted the "twisted irony" of King's birthday falling on a day when the world was preoccupied by thoughts of war.
"Until mankind learns the lessons of tolerance," he said, "peace will continue to be a dove that soars beyond us, just out of reach and ever so far away."
And he ended with a moving prayer for children, especially those in poverty and in stressful circumstances "whose monsters are for real . . . whose nightmares come in the daytime."