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Horowitz: Martin Luther King Challenged America to Live Up to its Ideals

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

 

MLK Jr.

His biographer Taylor Branch, called Martin Luther King, “a new founding father.”  That is because his words and deeds challenged our nation to live up to the promise of its founding documents. 

This is particularly the case for Jefferson’s ringing phrase in The Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

As King proclaimed in his famous 1963 “I have a Dream" speech, "I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: "'we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

As we celebrated the Martin Luther King national holiday yesterday, and looked back on all he and the civil rights movement he led accomplished, the divisions and emboldened racism of the present day shows that the work of realizing the promise of America is never done.  A president who stokes racial divisions and marinates in racially-tinged rhetoric has given aid and comfort to racists, resulting in a dramatic uptick in bias incidents and in the resurgence of a crabbed view of the American experiment that is more about ‘blood and soil’ than sharing values and ideals.

In perhaps the most famous line from the “I have a Dream’ speech, King remarked,” I have a dream that 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 the content of their character.”  As voices on the right, such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham talk about the dangers of “demographic change” --code words for too many Latinos--and President Trump makes the same points in more vulgar and directly bigoted language, it is up to the rest of us to reaffirm MLK's dream.

Martin Luther King framed the African American quest for genuine equality of opportunity as part of the fulfillment of the American Dream, King refused to demonize even the Southern Segregationists he battled--opting to draw on more aspirational and powerful chords that can be drawn from America’s best traditions.

A reminder that at our best we are a welcoming nation in which people are judged by their actions and contributions--not by their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference--is much needed in today’s fraught times.  Our nation has been continually enriched both economically and culturally by the constant waves of immigration to our shores.  The unfinished work of making sure our fellow African-American citizens realize true equality of opportunity has made our nation immeasurably better.

These are the values at stake today--values that Martin Luther King made the ultimate sacrifice for.

 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits, businesses, and elected officials and candidates. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

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