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August 22, 2013

In August 1963, as was the case 100 years earlier when the cemetery for the heroes of Gettysburg was dedicated, many speeches were delivered; but one stood out as a galvanizing moment to redefine and repurpose a movement. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered in November 1863, clearly defined the issue of the Civil War to be whether states’ rights could trample the rights of anyone. Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech came to define the civil rights movement of a century later. It has come to be interpreted as a call for a colorblind society, instead of a call to end racial injustice. His vision was more powerful than the sanguine, “not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” interpretation that has seen right-wing conservatives quoting Dr. King’s speech to justify racial disparities; in the same way that tea party members embrace Lincoln’s “government of the people,” to somehow mean no government at all.

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