Today we honor the memory of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is the middle of the 20th century.
Barely a decade earlier, the United States collaborated in eliminating a monstrous tyranny from the face of the Earth. Flush with success and prosperity, steeling ourselves for confrontation with another sort of tyrants, we style ourselves the great moral paragon of the world.
King challenges us to look within our own society and reflect on the shortcomings of its promise of freedom for all. Why are people who were willing to give their lives in the fight against Fascism still less than full citizens in their own homeland? Why, after nearly a century, are Lincoln’s promises yet unfulfilled? He dares to remind us that despite our achievements, liberty is merely privilege extended, until and unless it is enjoyed by every individual.
It is the 21st century.
We can still learn a great many lessons from King’s life; today I’m reflecting on one. Bitterly mocked, occasionally reviled, unjustly imprisoned, and violently opposed, he nonetheless succeeded in leading one of the great non-violent liberation movements of human history. Our own ability to hear him — to the extent that we did, to the extent that we still do — is a credit to our own potential as a civilization. While we may need to be dragged kicking and screaming to the edge of our own tolerance by brave souls, we nonetheless have the capacity to ultimately apprehend the truth, and to act upon it.
On some positions a coward has asked the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.
— Martin Luther King, Jr., November 1967
From all those who have a dream, then: Thank you, Dr. King. We remember you.