The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks at Scott High School in Toledo in September, 1967.
The nation today celebrates the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who helped tear down the walls of inequality and demanded that racial discrimination be rooted out across America and beyond.
For 28 years Americans officially have celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., Day as a federal holiday. President Ronald Reagan signed into law the establishment of the federal holiday in 1983, and the first holiday was observed on Jan. 20, 1986. But it wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states would officially observe it.
With what has become a symbolic and feel-good holiday — mostly celebrations, civic activities, and church services — every American also must include some honest reflection. Are we living up to Mr. King’s dream of equality for all? What have we done as individuals to advance unity and the fight against social injustice?
Unfortunately, since the nation last celebrated Mr. King and the progress he helped broker in race relations and civil rights, the country may have taken a step backward.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a move that allows nine states and numerous municipalities to change their election laws without federal approval. Several of those states are in the South — states known to have historically discriminated at the polls.
A month later, the nation was largely divided by race over the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin. The African-American teen, who was walking unarmed through an exclusive Florida neighborhood, had been targeted by Mr. Zimmerman for appearing suspicious. After the acquittal, the nation’s first African-American president was vilified when he spoke to Americans, saying he understood why the verdict conjured up past injustices and upset so many African-Americans.
The lack of tolerance Americans display about race issues seems overwhelming at times. Do we spend our time feeding the vitriol — posting uninformed messages on social media about, for example, the made up “Knock Out” game, where menacing African-American young males allegedly were assaulting people of other races just because it was fun — instead of doing what we can to promote a just and equitable society?
All Americans must do their part to be more compassionate and understanding. To be sure, Americans have made great strides in race relations over the past 50 years. But if Mr. King were alive today, he still would be speaking and marching about the injustices in classrooms, in boardrooms, courtrooms — and in the nation’s prisons, where nearly 1 million black men are locked up, many of them disenfranchised long after they leave.
It’s time for Americans to make Mr. King’s dream a reality by reflecting on how we can change the course of race relations in America and commit to actions that make them better.