Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fifty Years Since the Death of Martin Luther King

"Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
April 3, 1968

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn.

Many articles have been written recapping that event for those not old enough to remember. It is not my intention to add to them. If the reader wants to know what brought King to Memphis, there are many sources for that information.

Nor is it necessary for me to discuss the aftermath of the assassination. Dr. King was the face of the civil rights movement. When that face was taken away, it sparked predictable violence across America — sadly, that violence also led to widespread looting, prompting Roy Wilkins, the executive secretary of the NAACP, to lament that "Martin's memory is being desecrated." It was more than that, really. It was a violation of the concept of home and the security that word implies.

"For home in America is as much home to blacks as to whites," historian Theodore H. White wrote at the time, "and violence menaces them as much as it does Americans of any color."

The night before he died, Dr. King said something that could just as easily have been said yesterday: "Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars."

Trouble is in the land today. One need look no further than San Bruno, Calif., or Austin, Texas, to see that.

Sometimes there is a racial aspect to the violence, but to focus on that alone is to miss the point; the truth is that race relations have improved in half a century. Segregated schools still existed in 1968. If they exist today, it is in the form of private schools to which only affluent families have access. Laws protect Americans from racial (and sexual) discrimination in the workplace.

Are there areas where improvement is needed? Of course. Wholesale change does not happen overnight — or even over decades. America has always been a work in progress. But there can be no denying that the America of 2018 is better than the America of 1968.

So on this day I would say that Dr. King's dream is partially fulfilled. Much work has been done, and much remains to be done.

The work will not be finished until all Americans, regardless of their color — or gender or age, for that matter — enjoy the same rights and privileges of citizenship.

Then the dream will be fulfilled.

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