Record editorial: In a divided America, Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy continues to light the way
The Selma marches. The Montgomery bus boycott. The Birmingham protests.
They are seminal moments that shaped America but ones that, to the younger generations, can sometimes seem as distant as the Civil War era. For people under a certain age, the stories live only in the pages of history books.
Likewise, it can be easy for people who didn’t experience the civil rights movement to think of Martin Luther King Jr. as a momentous figure from long ago whose triumphs and struggles had little in common with the realities of American life entering the third decade of the 21st century.
But it was only 56 years ago that he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke of the dream he held for his fractured nation’s future. And as we mark his life this weekend, we owe it to him and the other civil rights heroes of his time to ensure his legacy does not merely fade into history.
In the time since King’s death, America has dramatically changed. In some ways, we have even fulfilled many of the hopes he laid out in his famous speech.
We must recognize, though, how much further we have to go and understand that the struggles of King’s era continue today. More than 150 years since Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education desegregated public schools, our nation remains divided by race.
Minorities are still victimized by police brutality. Average incomes for people of color are still significantly lower than that of their white neighbors. In many parts of the country, communities are still partitioned by de facto segregation.
We have even regressed in the last few years. In 2019, a Pew Research Center poll found that 58% of U.S. adults — including 71% of black people — classified race relations in America as “generally bad.” In the same poll, 65% of adults said it has become more common since 2016 for people to express racist or racially insensitive views.
It is clear now that the optimism many of us held when our first black president took office, the hope that we were entering a post-racial America, was premature, if not altogether naive. While Barack Obama’s presidency marked a milestone in American history, overcoming centuries of history was never that simple.
Confronting that reality does not mean there is no hope, however.
It simply means the fight — the same one King led a half-century ago — is not over. And it means we need heroes to step up, like they always have in American history, and breathe life into the ideals King championed.
His example is a towering one, of leadership and conviction and an unyielding commitment to the promise of progress. Let us do our best to follow it, even when, as it did in his era, the dream of a nation where all are truly equal seems distant.
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