Trinity-Pawling School Headmaster Bill Taylor

In his I Have a Dream speech, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his unforgettable address with an indictment against America for its history of racial injustice and segregation that had spanned the 100 years between the Emancipation Proclamation and the year in which he gave this address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of The Constitution and The Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

King’s words, his challenge to America to live up to the objectives of its ideals, reflect a progressive call to action that has historically kept this nation moving forward towards its promise of being “a more perfect union” for all. This type of challenge is a distinctive aspect of the American Experience that has kept this nation advancing forward in generative ways since before its actual founding as a nation.

When thinking about the importance of Black History Month, its tremendous value lies in the fact that this month affords all of us the opportunity to reflect on and, for many to learn about, the critical contributions of Black Americans to the life of this nation. Through this process, we also are challenged to reflect on and bear witness to the fact that these voices and contributions were too often omitted from the larger narrative of American history. During the month of February, and indeed through the other eleven months, we stand to benefit from this type of reflection, learning, and witnessing if we are truly going to live out the true meaning of our ideals so that freedom may ring and our nation may forge a more perfect union.

by William W. Taylor