Remembering a visionary: Connecting MLK’s ideals to today

Isaac Martin, Political Contributor

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Born in Montgomery, Alabama, and educated at Boston University, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was made a household name across America by a boycott in 1956.

Known today as the face of the civil rights movement that climaxed with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Dr. King’s legacy lives on today, 49 years after his assassination. We remember him lest we forget not only some of the worst mistakes of our country, but also several of its most glorious triumphs.

Dr. King presented a powerful plea which held, at its core, the supreme value and dignity that resides in the soul of every human being. Dr. King’s America looked very different from the one we observe around us today, however. This past week, I was talking with a friend born in 1953, and the ugly differences between the two periods came into startlingly sharp focus.

As a young black lad growing up in the south, he had many firsthand experiences with segregation. For instance, when my friend and his family wanted to eat out, they were subjected to less-than-courteous service.

Even at respectable dine-in establishments, his family was forced to order through a little window and eat their food outside as they sat on empty Coke crates. Meanwhile, they could see white families through the store’s windows, sitting on chairs at tables covered with tablecloths.

They had both paid the same price for the same food at the same restaurant; the implied inferiority of his skintone was not difficult to pick up. Yet my friend readily admitted that much has changed since his youth — change that stemmed, in part, from Dr. King’s message of hope and human dignity.  

But even the noblest cause does itself a grave disservice if advanced by evil, unjust means. Dr. King understood this truth and asserted that nonviolent confrontation would be the avenue through which true reconciliation and equal standing under the law could be achieved.

It was his commitment to nonviolence that won Dr. King the hearts of Americans. As the Bible says, “The greatest of these is love.”

We cannot be lulled into believing that Dr. King’s message and mode of operation are only for yesteryear. Indeed, even as the civil rights movement of the 1960s drew to a close, a new movement emerged.

In fact, one of the leaders of this movement is none other than Dr. King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King. She sees the pro-life movement as a continuation of the civil rights movement, stating, “Civil rights. Human rights. It all goes together.”

She views abortion as a devastating danger to the African American community, saying it “has wiped out one out of four blacks in the United States. That’s 15 million Americans who have been denied the most fundamental civil right, the right to life.”

The fight for liberty and justice for all is by no means over. Dr. King himself argued that “The Negro cannot win as long as he is willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for comfort and safety.”

So long as abortion is legal, we must join hand-in-hand to oppose this tragic travesty. We must remember the sage words that emanated from a Birmingham jail, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is imperative that we regularly recall the memory of Dr. King. If we neglect this man, we will be doomed to continue in our failures and impeded in our progress toward a brighter tomorrow.