Jump to Navigation

Dr. King's Dream Remains Elusive in Florida | Rhonda Swan

Our Columnists
Informed Personalities from Across the State, Across the Spectrum

Dr. King's Dream Remains Elusive in Florida | Rhonda Swan

Rhonda Swan's picture
Dr. King's Dream Remains Elusive in Florida
Friday, January 18, 2013 — Rhonda Swan

Barack Obama is not the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.

His two successful campaigns for the White House signal that we are much closer than when King delivered his famous speech in 1963. But we still have a long way to go. Especially in Florida.

With Martin Luther King Day approaching, I wanted to know what the civil rights icon had to say about the pressing issues of his day that we still struggle with nearly 45 years after his death.

Though he’s famous for leading the equality movement for African Americans, King wanted equal rights for all Americans. He also dreamed of an America where there was economic justice, respect for labor and quality health care for all.

King was in Memphis to advocate for fair wages and union representation for Memphis sanitation workers when an assassin’s bullet claimed his life in 1968. In the months before his death, he was working on the goals of The Poor People’s Campaign.

Neither the poor nor union workers are getting any love in Florida.

Speaking to his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers in 1967, King said, “There are still way too many people seeking to be conscientious objectors in the war against poverty. We must see that whatever diminishes the poor diminishes everybody else.”

Twenty-five percent of Florida’s children, 14 percent of its seniors and 18 percent of its women are poor.  

Count Florida’s lawmakers among the conscientious objectors who do not see that what diminishes the poor diminishes the rest of us. Instead of balancing the state’s budget by closing tax loopholes for big corporations that cost Florida $500 million a year, they have chosen since the Great Recession to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, sick and elderly with hundreds of millions in cuts to social service programs.

In a speech before the AFL-CIO in 1962, King spoke of how bad economic times embolden the forces against labor. He said the organized-labor movement has been “fought mercilessly by those who blindly believe their right to uncontrolled profits was a law of the universe, and that without the maintenance of the old order catastrophe faced the nation.”

How little things have changed.

Florida lawmakers breathed life into King’s words by forcing public employees to contribute to their pensions so legislators can afford to give tax breaks to corporations. They also stripped teachers of tenure and based their pay on student test scores.

That measure was challenged in court this week and a ruling on its constitutionality is expected soon.

On a brighter note, two Democratic lawmakers have proposed legislation that would give teachers a minimum salary. The bill, filed by Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, and Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, would require full time teacher pay to be at least equal to the national average by 2015.

King, who advocated for a guaranteed annual income to abolish poverty, would be pleased.

Unfortunately, the bill is likely to go nowhere in the Republican dominated Legislature.

In a Christmas Eve sermon in 1967, King said, “I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there to do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God.”

Count on that dream being deferred when Florida’s legislative session begins in March.
Doing justly would mean using the state’s recently announced $436 million surplus, its first in five years, to restore funding to the social service programs that serve the needy. I won’t hold my breath.

It also would mean expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act so that at least 1 million of the state’s nearly 4 million uninsured would get health coverage.

“Of all the forms of inequality,” King said in 1966 to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, “injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”


During that Christmas Eve sermon, King said he was “the victim of deferred dreams of blasted hope but…in spite of that I still have a dream because, you know, you can’t give up in life.”

So we shouldn’t give up on the Florida Legislature. We should, however, push them to make brotherhood, as King said, “the first order of business on every legislative agenda.”

Rhonda Swan is an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post and author of Dancing to the Rhythm of My Soul: A Sister’s Guide for Transforming Madness into Gladness. She can be reached at [email protected]

© Florida Voices

Comment on this Column Using Facebook

FloridaVoices User Comments

Log in or register to post comments