“Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and Black Americans, as he put it, ‘Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone.’” ~President Ronald Reagan, as he signed into law the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday.
Dr. King grew up in a middle class family. His grandfather, James King, became the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1913 and remained the Senior Pastor until 1931 when Martin Luther King Sr. took over as Senior Pastor.
Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from Morehouse College as did his father and grandfather. Dr. King added a Doctorate degree from Boston University. If he had chosen another path in life, his family could have been so pleasant in their Atlanta middle class neighborhood where they could have raised their four children in a life of privilege that few Americans, Black or white, would have had the opportunity to live.
In an era when the news was filled with the death of Emmett Till and the National Guard being called in to protect small children entering a school, and in a time when Black men were lynched in the town square in broad daylight, Dr. King chose a path fought with numerous beatings and jailings, and ultimate death by assassination at age 39.
As we observe his birthday, we should remember the price he paid.
And now, 46 years since his death, many Black Americans still struggle to live the “Dream.”
In 2015, Black America is still very segregated and remains the least employed and the poorest of all demographics in America. Many Americans are saying that race relations in America are worse today than they were 10 years ago. Because crime, violence and police killings of Blacks in broad day light continues to cripple many Black majority neighborhoods, the chants are not “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last,” but rather “hands up, don’t shoot” and “no justice no peace.”
Upon the close of his speech to sign the MLK Jr. holiday into law, Ronald Reagan said, “Each year on Martin Luther King Day, let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day: Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. And I just have to believe that all of us—if all of us, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, do all we can to live up to those Commandments, then we will see the day when Dr. King’s dream comes true, and in his words, ‘All of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning… land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’”