Our Opinion: Rally in support of Dr. King's legacy and his principles

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s signature oration, his "I Have a Dream" speech delivered to thousands of his brethren of all hues before the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, resonates with the rich cadences of the religious tradition from which he sprang. It is a delight to read for its pure eloquence and its soaring, poetic vision, but more salient for us now is his muscular assertion that equality of all races is not just a matter for those who do not possess it; America's very reason for existence is a bankrupt concept if continued inequality among its people is accepted and condoned.

"...[M]any of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny," Reverend King said in his historic polemic against institutionalized racism. "They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom."

Tomorrow, the nation rightly pauses in its business to celebrate the birth of this American patriot. Reverend King, while a son of the African American community, was also an American — and the gift of his life and his work has, over the 50 years since his untimely death, become even more precious and meaningful now that the principles he stood for have fallen under direct and sustained attack from our leadership.

As we look anew at Reverend King's legacy from our present-day perspective as a people still torn by internecine hatred, we appreciate the timelessness of a man impelled by the righteousness of his cause to extol love for one's neighbor. Now, more than ever, it is incumbent upon us to remember that the discord visited upon us by the darker angels of our natures diminishes all of us as individuals and weakens us as a nation.

Were the civil rights crusader alive today, he would note with sadness that African-Americans and other minorities have still not reached that elusive mountaintop of equality. Moreover, he would be devastated to learn that so many fearful and disillusioned Americans still fall victim to the siren call of divisiveness, nativism and white supremacy that their sentiments contributed mightily to the election of a leader who is the antithesis of everything Abraham Lincoln stood for and for which he himself strove.

Dignity for all was his cause and his guiding light; non-violence based upon the proven tactics of Mahatma Gandhi was his methodology. While Reverend King's desire for equality was passionate, he was almost prescient, considering his fate, in his knowledge that his crusade would lose its focus if its marchers, in their rage, allowed themselves to vent their feelings through violent acts. "We must not be guilty of wrongful deeds," he cautioned. "let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

Today bitterness and hatred have become mother's milk for many Americans who view racial equality as a zero-sum proposition. Alarmed at the erosion of their presumed birthright of supremacy and privilege, some have chosen to take a path that is destructive not only for those whom they fear, but also for themselves. One need look no further than the appalling language used by our president toward immigrants of color last Thursday to understand how the tactics of divisiveness can easily gnaw away the foundations of unifying principle that sustained America through some of the most challenging periods in its history.

Tomorrow is a time for celebration and reflection upon Reverend King's legacy. On this, the 89th anniversary of his birth, we should remember in particular that the moral imperatives for which he gave his life will tragically remain forever under siege by those who would gladly turn back the clock on all the progress America has made since he lived. That our president has now openly joined those forces is lamentable, but we should not despair.

The American people have sometimes been slow to rally against injustice, but rally they ultimately have. Indeed, as Reverend King once said, the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. If we have learned anything from the man's life and death, it's that Americans of conscience can never afford to let down their guard. Our survival depends on it.


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