Local veteran reflects on King's ‘Dream' speech

Ken Joyner
Ken Joyner
Joyner with Barack Obama
Joyner with Barack Obama

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HAWAII KAI (KHNL) -  A local veteran was among those honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Monday.   Ken Joyner's family has strong ties to the civil rights era.  He reflected on the significance of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Joyner's family has fought for civil rights for decades.  They had always hoped this country would fulfill the message in Dr. King's speech, but never thought they'd live to see it.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," said Dr. King, in his historic speech at the steps of the Linclon Memorial in Washington, D.C.

This public declaration during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom helped galvanize the civil rights movement in the United States.   When Dr. King delivered his famous speech in 1963, the country was largely divided.

"It meant hope for me but I think it was something unimaginable and unachievable in my lifetime," said Ken Joyner, a 77-year-old retired U.S. Navy veteran.

The thought of living in a color blind society for Joyner, was, well, just a dream.

"Those were words  -- the Constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance, and so forth -- they were words that didn't include me," he said.

To become included, Joyner's family fought for equality.  In the 1960s, his mother-in-law Elizabeth Murphy Oliver campaigned for the Kennedys and met with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.

"John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Malcolm X was assassinated," said Joyner. "It was a time when anybody with a gun would just kill you, kill all the leaders."

Now, America has changed quite a bit, with a new leader in Barack Obama.

"I had no reason to think that America could go from lynching to Jim Crow to electing a black president," said Joyner.

And he's someone Joyner knows quite well.

"I talked to him," he said. "I know him long before he ran makes it even more surreal.  In fact the pictures I have of him, my family and so forth say you look like father and son."

While Joyner thinks America still has a way to go before Dr. King's dream is fully realized, he says our country has taken a giant leap forward.

"For me to see this is more than I have ever dreamed," said Joyner.

Joyner has a birthday coming up.  He will be 78 years old.  He says witnessing Obama's inauguration will be the best birthday present he's ever had.