In his Washington Post column, Eugene Robinson says that celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday allows the nation to pause during these pessimistic times to remember the great lessons of his remarkable life: Impossible dreams can come true.
… This is not a partisan message; King was every bit as tough on Democrats as Republicans. His activism even transcended ideology. His call for social justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War were rightly seen as liberal, but his insistence on the primacy of faith and family was deeply conservative. His birthday is a national holiday because his words and deeds ennoble us all.
Thinking about King’s legacy reminds me that this is hardly the first time our society has been bitterly divided and fearful of an uncertain future. When he led the 1963 March on Washington and gave his indelible “I Have a Dream” speech, many Southern whites, including officials, were still determined to resist racial integration by any means necessary. Many black Americans were fed up, no longer willing to wait patiently for the rights promised them under the Constitution.
We were inured to television images that today would be shocking. Police dogs turned loose on peaceful protesters. Columns of smoke rising from cities across the land following King’s assassination.
As he predicted, King did not live to reach the mountaintop. But his leadership — and that of so many others in the civil rights movement — set us on a path that changed the nation in ways that once seemed unimaginable. Racism, sexism and all the other poisonous -isms have not been eradicated, but they have been dramatically reduced and marginalized. It is difficult for young people to believe that overt discrimination — “You can’t have that job because you’re black” or “I’m going to pay you less because you’re a woman” — used to be seen as normal …
Read Eugene Robinson's entire column at the Washington Post.