Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s especially vital to remember his legacy this year because 2018 marks 50 years since his assassination.
For those of us who lived through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, who came from the South and remember the evils of segregation, who admired the Rev. King during his lifetime and remember the incredible courage he showed and the shock and grief of his assassination, this isn’t just another government holiday. It is a day to reflect on his legacy; yes, to think about how much still needs to be done, but also to look back at how far we’ve come.
Too many people these days condemn America for the racial sins of its past without giving proper thanks for the many sacrifices of good people of all races who came before us and who gave everything they had, even their very lives, to make things better. Some refuse to acknowledge how much progress has been made, or to express gratitude for living in a nation that is always striving to improve and become more just.
These days, many people try to appropriate the image of the Rev. King to promote their own divisive agendas. But his message was not about dividing people, it was about bringing people together. He didn’t want to create an America filling with warring camps, but a land where all people, despite their surface differences, recognize the many things we have in common that make us brothers and sisters under the skin. That’s why his message is more important than ever. The best antidote to those who would seek to misappropriate his image to promote their personal agendas is to quote his own inspiring words. They stand as the best rebuke to those on both the left and the right who would seek to divide us along racial lines:
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four 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.”
I greatly admired the Rev. King in his lifetime and beyond, largely because of those stirring words. In describing a nation where people should be judged only by the content of their character, he set out one of the clearest visions in history for what America is all about.
Those who would seek to promote racial divisions for their own selfish political gain should take this day to reflect on what he was trying to teach us, look inside their own characters, and ask themselves how the Rev. King would judge them. If you don’t like the answer, it’s never too late to change.