Friday, April 04, 2008

40 years later: Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy today

It was early evening, April 4, 1968 when a shot rang out in Memphis and the world lost a true champion of justice and equality. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 39 years old when he was assassinated, but his unwavering struggle against racism and segregation had already transformed America, changing the lives of millions and forging the path for future generations of leaders. Once an ally of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Dr. King would also be accused of unpatriotic tendencies for his strong opposition to the Vietnam war, a stance that, largely vindicated, remains increasingly relevant today.

Though we have along way to go, it is fortunate that it's hard to imagine this country without Dr. King's influence. Before the sacrifices of his Civil Rights movement, scores of people were being discriminated, marginalized by their own government because of the color of their skin. And Dr. King achieved lasting changes through non-violence, through marches, demonstrations and the moral courage and truth behind his words.

Following Gandhi's footsteps, Dr.King waged a peaceful battle against prejudice. Unlike Bush or McCain, who would have us believe that one spreads peace through violence, and democracy through preemptive, illegal and unilateral war, Dr. King knew that our ways must reflect our true goals. For us to have any credibility, our actions must be consistent with our words.

Republican presidential candidate Johhn McCain was booed today after he recalled his vote against the creation of a holiday honoring King in 1983. McCain also voted oppose a state MLK holiday in 1987 (which he later supported) and a federal holiday in 1989. As recently as 1994 McCain voted to cut funding for the commission that promoted King's holiday. It is a very telling track record and McCain's push for war clashes decidedly with Dr. King's ideals.

I think what Dr. King would have thought of this war in Iraq is very clear when we listen to him speak about the war in Viet Nam:

Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University sociology professor, Baptist minister and author says of Dr. King on Newsweek:
"He gave us a language to express our aspirations. He reimagined a new America of black and white and brown and red, together. His death radically altered white America's perception of his life and convinced many to make a real commitment to racial justice. There would be no Barack Obama without King. There would be no Kenneth Chenault without King. There would be no Michael Eric Dyson without King. The fact that I went to Princeton and got a Ph.D. and have taught at such wonderful universities as Georgetown, none of that would have happened without Martin Luther King Jr."

Barack Obama's candidacy brings us closer to the fulfillment of Dr. Kings dream.
One of my favorite of Obama's speeches so far is this one from Martin Luther King Jr's church on Dr. King's birthday. In it Obama holds the mirror up to the community listening directly and to us all when he denounces discrimination of all kinds, even amongst minorities:

here's Barack speaking today about MLK's legacy

And Barack's historic speech on race, in a way an assessment of how far we've come and how far we've yet to go in making Dr. King's dream a reality:

"Marching into the Light" by Andres Useche