On This MLK Day…

There’s never been a better time to celebrate the person and legacy of Martin Luther King.  Many passionate, articulate campaigners for equal rights for black Americans came before him, but no one captured the imagination of the country the way King did.  The sincerity of his beliefs, his single-minded pursuit of racial equality, his willingness to suffer for it, the power of his oratory and his genius at connecting the aspirations of Jefferson and Lincoln to the opportunity of the post-WWII moment made him the right person for the time and a vital figure in our history.  King’s dream of an America in which people are not “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” is still the most powerful and concise expression, since “all men are created equal,” of what we as Americans hope – and have done so much - to achieve.

How far we’ve come since King uttered those words before the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963!  Who then would have guessed that, 58 years later, we’d have swept aside Jim Crow, spent $20 trillion on programs aimed at black uplift, twice elected a black man president?  Who’d have foreseen that interracial marriage would be both widely practiced and accepted by large majorities of people?  Who’d have imagined all the astonishing lengths to which we’ve gone to free and equalize black Americans?  How far we’ve come from the America that then was.  I believe that MLK would be profoundly moved.

And yet, how far we’ve come from the dream to which he gave voice that day.  If he were with us (if only he were!), what would King say about the fact that, a mere 18 months ago, we lionized a murdered black man, completely ignoring the content of his character - the crime, thuggery and drug addiction - in order to do so?  What would he say about our doing so solely because of the color of his skin?  (Remember Tony Timpa?)  Who could have guessed that we’d now be told that skin color is not only important, but all important, that black people entirely lack agency, are forever under the thumb of whites?  How terribly, terribly far we’ve come from King’s dream.

On this day on which we rightly honor Dr. King, we must take a hard look at who we are as a nation, where we’re going and where we want to go.  King’s dream is now, was then and has always been the right one, the goal toward which we should strive.  Through all this nation’s long travail, our sometimes-blind groping toward a society that’s truly free for everyone, one in which everyone is judged individually by their actions and not their group traits has succeeded in ways that, not so very long ago, few could have imagined.  We have done well.  The job is not complete, but we must honor ourselves and the progress we’ve made.  Perhaps most importantly, we must acknowledge that we’ve made that progress precisely because we’ve been led by the vision of the type of society Jefferson wrote about, Lincoln spoke about and King fought for.

There are those who would have us believe that the American people and the institutions we’ve created are not what they so poignantly are.  We’re told that, despite all that’s obvious, despite all the progress we’ve made, despite the fact that, more than ever before, whites and blacks embrace each other as brothers and sisters and fellow Americans, we are enemies, that whites are forever bent on keeping blacks debased and degraded and that there is no solution to the problem but to destroy everything “white.”  In a type of group madness, large swaths of academic, cultural, journalistic and business elites have adopted that awful lie and are using their considerable power to try to foist it on the rest of us who know better.

We cannot allow them to prevail.  Every single person of good will must stand up for what’s true and right and oppose the madness that seeks to divide and conquer us.  Martin Luther King’s dream of an honest and true society is alive and well, however imperfectly, in the reality that is today’s United States.  To allow those elites to kill it would be a tragedy as great as any that’s gone before in the whole history of this nation.

History questions us: “Will we complete the project that was begun with the Declaration of Independence, continued by the Civil War and rejuvenated on August 28, 1963?  Or will we allow the great vision of freedom and equality voiced by Jefferson, Lincoln and King to be overthrown and fade to merely a dream?”

One way or another, we will answer.




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