In 2017, as our nation commemorates the birth of D. Martin Luther King, Jr., we stand on the precipice of the inauguration of a new president of the United States. Our country is walking an uncertain path, divided by race, class, and partisanship. We collectively tend to remember Dr. King as one whose dreams gently prodded the United States away from segregation and discrimination by appealing to a sympathetic majority of Americans who supported his agenda. We further like to think about his work as having been largely accomplished, as we live in a largely post-racial society. We at the UNC Center for Civil Rights acknowledge the profoundly significant progress we have made as a nation on issues of race. Yet we also recognize the persistence of structural inequality and stubborn racism that continues to define important aspects of American life.
Dr. King was much more than a dreamer. He was a warrior in the cause of civil rights who posed a radical challenge to racism, economic inequality, and militarism. In his time, most Americans, including most African Americans, did not march with him. He was harshly criticized and opposed by many whose intellectual and political heirs attempt to wrap themselves in his mantle. He is an American icon whose life and legacy at best has been misunderstood and at worst twisted and distorted in the service of an anti-civil rights agenda. The sum of what some people know about Martin Luther King’s words and thoughts is limited to his 1963 speech at the March on Washington, specifically his “dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by content of their character”. For them, that means color-blindness that prohibits any and all attempts to take race conscious actions aimed at ameliorating racial inequality.
Dr. King’s work is still undone. The UNC Center for Civil Rights and others continue the struggle for equality and justice. Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. witnessed and mourned the deaths of four little girls in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama carried out by racists in 1963, we witnessed and mourned the deaths of nine African American innocents in Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston carried out by a racist in 2016. Inequality in public education, injustice within the criminal justice system, unequal economic opportunity, curtailment and denial of the right to vote, all continue to challenge our country.
Posted by Theodore M. Shaw (Ted) on Tue. January 17, 2017 9:17 AM