Commentary: Living Dr. King's dream

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Had he lived, Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 80 years old now. And last Thursday, he would have celebrated an especially happy birthday. For tomorrow brings the kind of occasion King anticipated he might not live to see, when a man born to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya will become president of the United States.

Barack Obama is in a way the coming-true of the dream King spoke about in that March on Washington, in those words that will live in posterity. And there were so many other words from preacher King, about white children and black children walking together, about people judged by the "content of their character" and not the color of their skin.

How fitting it is that at the other end of that same mall in the nation's capital where in 1963 King's "I have a dream" speech electrified the nation, Obama will take the oath as president. And it will come tomorrow, the very day after the annual holiday that honors King.

The modern civil rights movement that the martyred King championed, and in fact came to represent as its most revered figure, arose in response to America's harsh segregation laws of the early 20th century. Protests over racial equality extended through the bus boycotts and sit-ins of the 1950s and led to battle after battle over legislation to reaffirm civil rights as a matter of law.

President John F. Kennedy was said to fear that King's climactic march, which brought together a coalition of civil rights activists, might in fact hurt chances for passage of federal laws to ensure equal opportunity by drawing the ire of Southerners in Congress. But King proceeded, and of course his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial became a benchmark, a call to unity, to activism. It was not, thanks to King's adamant stance for nonviolence, a call to arms. With another leader, it might have been.

So, can it be said, to borrow the words of that old anthem, that we have overcome? No, and perhaps in some ways we never will. Even in good cities with enlightened people, there remain all-white clubs. Even in families where people have gone to school with those of different races, worked together with people representing the rainbow that is the true makeup of this nation of immigrants, there remains some hard-line racism. Prejudice is often under the surface, and not very far.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

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