That Martin Luther King’s Call Should Still Be Heard
In 1999 I was a grad student at the University of Virginia, where I was surprised to learn that they did not honor Martin Luther King’s birthday in that great state. Oh, no. Although they couldn’t simply ignore a federal holiday, they did make their own … mm, adjustment to it, and celebrated “Lee, Jackson, and King Day.”
I learned a lesson that is so hard to internalize, as all truths tend to be when they’re at a certain remove from your own frame of reference and values. What I learned is that there are a lot of people in the United States who are Not Okay with the very idea of racial equality.
Lo these many years later, it still comes as a surprise to learn just how Not Okay with racial equality we are, and I think 2016 has probably delivered some hard lessons to all of us about how true that is.
For myself, I have always been and continue to be in a fundamental state of disbelief that the baseline markers that I take as signs of progress in the advancement of civilization toward its highest ends in its recognition of universal equality and human rights is taken by many as a kind of attack.
This Martin Luther King’s Day we should not celebrate his achievement and his legacy as though honoring a dream since realized, but we should instead feel called by his example to recognize that his struggle is our struggle – not in a symbolic sense, but in real, concrete terms. For if the last awful year has taught us anything, it should be that humanity has not advanced one single step in the last fifty years in terms of its fundamental character, and our capacity for hate and injustice. We are the same as they were, and their struggle is our own.
As Dr. King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
These are dark days, and they sound a call to all of us to rise to face inhumanity with humanity, to meet hatred with compassion, and to try to meet ignorance with wisdom.