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A day to consider past injustices and future dreams



Published: Mon, January 17, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



On the day that we commemorate the 76th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., his message remains as relevant as it was in 1968 when he was assassinated, or 1963 when he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech or 1955 when he rose to national prominence as the leader of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Martin Luther King Jr. has been dead for 37 years. He was only 39 years old when he was assassinated and had only been on the national stage as an advocate for justice for 13 years.

But in that short time he articulated the frustrations of black Americans, who still lived under Jim Crow laws in the South and were held back by more subtle forms of racism in the North. He called for a peaceful uprising against injustice throughout the land.

The dream

As every school child knows, the dream King articulated in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, was a dream that his children would one day live in a nation where they would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He dreamed of a day when, "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers."

And he envisioned a day "when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!' & quot;

He lived to see the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Within a week of his death, the Open Housing Act was passed.

He lived to see Lyndon Johnson, a Texas Democrat who was closely allied with the Southern power brokers in the Senate become an advocate of civil rights as president.

But he did not see his dream realized. And if he were here today, he would not be living his dream.

For all that Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished in his short life -- he was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace at 35 -- he could not produce equality single-handed. And while there have been great voices for equality since his death, none has equaled his.

The reality

Today, too few black students graduate from high school -- drop-out rates of 50 percent in urban school districts are not uncommon -- and too many young blacks, particularly men, are in prison. Disparities remain in education, income, housing and hope between the races.

Thinking about those facts on this day should inspire all of us -- regardless of race, religion or economic status -- to dream of a better day and to resolve to work toward it.




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