CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — During a time when local churches weren't allowing civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. inside, one Cleveland suburb church was opening their doors.
“Dr. King was invited to speak here in May 1963,” said current Rev. Jeanne Leinbach, the current Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights.
“And at that time, it was somewhat unusual for a black preacher to be invited into a predominately white, mainline protestant church.”
During the 1960s, King made several trips to the Cleveland area. He was in the city to speak and to support candidates like former Mayor Carl Stokes.
While King was in the city, he often spoke to crowds in parks or on church steps.
“Other, similar, churches may have invited him to speak but he would have to speak outside,” Leinbach said.
In the spring of 1963, the predominately white church invited King to come inside and speak.
The speech he gave was right in the middle of a pivotal time for King. It was a few months after he was released from jail where he penned “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and 15 weeks before his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on Washington, D.C.
Leinbach said anyone who reads King’s Cleveland address will hear the beginnings of that groundbreaking speech.
“It’s, it’s so moving,” she said.
The speech reads in part, “…I am always reminded of the fact that, in reality, we are really working to make the American dream a reality. And I would like to take a few minutes this afternoon to say something about the American dream. And I choose this subject because America is basically a dream, a dream yet unfulfilled. It is a dream of a nation founded on certain basic principles. The substance of the dream is found in these sublime words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
King stood in the nave and spoke to a full church. Two black and white photographs in the entrance of the church show the crowd sitting shoulder to shoulder in the pews; part of the center aisle blocked by people sitting on the floor when all the seats were gone.
“I think it’s a thirst. A thirst for justice and righteousness and knowing that this man had something we needed to hear,” Leinbach said. “Everybody wanted to hear this message.”
The speech was one of many King gave about resolving the racial conflict in the country with non-violence.
The first thing we notice in this dream is the amazing universalism. it does not say some men, it says all men. It does not say all white men but it says all men, which includes black men. It does not say all Protestants but it says all men, which includes Roman Catholics. It does not say all Gentiles, it says all men, which includes Jews...
“He is so inspiring and helping us understand that God did not create us in this way,” Leinbach said. “God did not create us to be racist. God did not create us to discriminate, to treat people as other.”
The discussion of racism and how to deal with it today is an ongoing discussion for the St. Paul’s community, Leinbach said. But, she acknowledged there are challenges that need to be overcome.
“The dream is still unfulfilled,” Leinbach said about King’s want to give every American the dream they were promised in the Declaration of Independence.
Cherise Diamond agrees with Leinbach.
Diamond was near the Cleveland State University campus on Monday afternoon when she read part of King’s speech for the first time.
“In my opinion, I still don’t think the American dream is fulfilled. It’s still unfulfilled in my opinion. Not everybody is created equal because we still have racism. We still have poverty, we still have people being hungry,” she said. “If we were all equal, then these problems would no longer be here. There are still a lot of people who refuse to see eye to eye. They won’t even learn the perspectives of other people.”
Bystander Preston Gadowski said small things can be done to help move issues forward and start bringing people together. One is focusing on a population in need.
“Focusing on the homeless population would be a good start. Every time I go downtown, there is at least five or six people that ask me for money or change,” Gadowski said.
Even though Diamond thinks King’s dream is unfulfilled, she hasn’t given up looking to the future.
“I hope that one day, eventually, that his words will actually be fulfilled,” she said. “And that, one day, these problems will be part of our past and one day we can be eye to eye. And, that what he wants to be fulfilled actually happens. In more ways than one.”