Photographs, Film, and Video

I Have a Dream

<i>New York City</i> from <i>Black and White in America</i> Leonard Freed, 1963.  © Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, Inc.

New York City from Black in White America, Leonard Freed, 1963. © Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, Inc.

One night when I was 10, I sat down to do some homework, reading a speech in my history book. It was just another day, just another assignment.

But as I read this speech, I became confused and angry. Every day at school, I recited the Pledge of Allegiance, which promised that we in the United States are free and equal. All of us. And yet this speech was telling me otherwise.

As I kept reading, I had an awakening, a realization that the ideal world I’d grown up in wasn’t so perfect. I realized that the ideas behind our country’s founding were just that—ideas. They were dreams, hopes. Not reality. Not yet, at least.

But as I continued to read, my anger changed to hope, to a sense that the dream could become a part of the real America. And I knew I would have to make sure that I did my part to make it so.

It’s the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Photographer Leonard Freed was there on that day, capturing the historic moment in the capitol. Seeing his pictures in the exhibition Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties reminded me of that shiver of awakening 30 years ago. You can see more of Freed’s work during this period in his pioneering photo essay Black in White America.

Much has changed. But these images, and today’s anniversary, remind me that we all still have work to do.

<i>Washington, D.C.</i> from <i>Black and White in America</i> Leonard Freed, 1963.  © Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, Inc.

Washington, D.C. from Black in White America, Leonard Freed, 1963. © Leonard Freed / Magnum Photos, Inc.

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      From you have I been absent in the spring,
      When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
      Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
      That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
      Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
      Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
      Could make me any summer’s story tell,
      Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
      Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
      Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
      They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
      Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
      Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
      As with your shadow I with these did play.

      —William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564

      Vase of Flowers (detail), 1722, Jan van Huysum. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      04/23/14

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