Americans celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, a man who became the face and the voice of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the 1950s and ‘60s. Killed by an assassin in 1968, Dr. King gave his life in the fight to end prejudice and ensure equal opportunity for future generations.
Yet today’s headlines include news about the arrest of white supremacists, the creation of policy to prevent people of color from entering the United States and more frequent attacks on those who practice a religion other than Christianity.
More opportunities do exist today than did in Dr. King’s America. There are no more “Whites Only” signs on drinking fountains and restaurants. Schools do not prohibit black children from attending. No one has to go to the back of the bus.
While the overt signs of racism have largely disappeared, the more subtle reality of prejudice remains in place.
America will not reach its full potential as a nation unless it allows every citizen regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation and age the same opportunity to succeed. Monday’s holiday reminds us that ideas will fuel the future of the United States, not the senseless effort to cling to the prejudices of the past.
No one group has all of the answers. Only by working together can America’s people hope to overcome challenges and create a brighter future for our children.
In August 1963, Dr. King and thousands of others gathered in Washington, D.C., during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to support civil rights for all. King’s speech included the hope that some day all Americans would work together for the common good of all:
“This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with meaning, ;My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!’ And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”