Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 02:08 PM

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.”

 -- The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Aug. 28, 1963

Those words helped to galvanize a nation to begin to right the wrongs of more than two centuries of slavery and discrimination – those words and the stirring cadence at the end of that memorable speech delivered almost a half-century ago.

This weekend, and for days on either side of it, we celebrate and commemorate the life of the incomparable orator and charismatic leader who did so much to advance the cause of civil rights.

This year marks an especially auspicious time to remember the profound impact Martin Luther King Jr. had on this country.  It will mark not just the 50th anniversary of that “I have a dream” speech, perhaps the single greatest oratorical moment of the civil rights movement, but the 50th anniversary of a pivotal year.

And just days ago, we marked the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a milestone on the road to the end of legal slavery.

It’s worth remembering that in that 1963 speech, King noted that “five score years ago, a great American” signed that proclamation. Half the time has passed since King’s speech as had elapsed from the proclamation to that August day on Washington’s Mall.

The changes in American life have been dramatic in that third half-century, offsetting if not excusing the glacial change in rights for all Americans in the first 100 years after emancipation.

Rights long denied have been enshrined in law and increasingly in the hearts and minds of most – but not, sadly, all – of our fellow Americans.

It is a marker of that change that coincidentally on Monday – the official observance of the King holiday – we will watch the first African American president be inaugurated for a second term. The symbolism is rich.

And while there is no question the greatest impact of that change has been on those minorities so long repressed, the impact has been profound, too, for white America. Especially in the South, long the home of the most vicious and legally sanctioned discrimination, the lifting of that veil opened the door to economic and population growth that had long been constrained by segregation.

So it is fitting that all of us join in remembering the man who worked so hard to help us realize his dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’"