Julian Hayter, an assistant professor and historian in the University of Richmond's Jepson School of Leadership Studies, writes about Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy 50 years after King's "I Have a Dream" speech.


I was born roughly 12 years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech. My generation, raised on the first wave of hip-hop music and odes to Malcolm X, was angry with King. We thought his overtures to interracial cooperation were a mid-20th-century brand of "Uncle Tom-ing," what my mother's generation called "shuffling." We found it difficult to reconcile King's dream with the rise of crack cocaine, urban blight and black incarceration.

Many of my childhood friends parlayed that anger into prison, gang life, absentee fatherhood, and what Iceberg Slim called the "poison of street life." In my case, hip-hop culture not only piqued my intellectual curiosity, but also inspired me toward college and graduate school. It was there (thanks to the University of Virginia's Claudrena Harold) that I learned about a different King and realized my friends and I had digested a "Disney-fied" King.

Aug. 28 marks the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. I'd like to honor King's memory and how we remember this speech by recalling what many of us have seemingly forgotten about this defining moment in American history.

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Associate Professor of Leadership Studies
Modern African American History
American Civil Rights Movement
African American Politics in Richmond, Virginia
American Political Development after 1945