As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, let us remember that the civil rights movement he breathed life into was successful because it helped make America a better place for all of its citizens. It was successful because it included the best interests of millions of people, not just a selfish few. It was successful because it revealed the hurt and suffering of black Americans and, through their prism, the hurt and suffering of yet others. It was successful because it included the concept of forgiveness.
And it was successful because Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders in the cause realized that the weak and the poor could not defeat the rich and the powerful by force. The strength of Black America did not then reside in America’s banks, halls of Congress or the barrel of a gun. Its strength was in its steady way of persuading oppressors to face the errors of their ways.
King and all who sought to follow a path of peace and forgiveness won the Great War for Civil Rights. Yet this peace has been tarnished by those who turn to hate and anger. The war for civil rights should be over. What remains or should remain is a war on poverty, bigotry and the indignities that yet scar our lives. There is much work to be done to extend equal justice and dignity to all of America’s people, but this war will not be won in America’s banks and legislatures but rather in that power to persuade Americans of goodwill among us to work together to make America a better place for all.
Those who pursue these lofty goals should remember that the struggle will be lost if they resort to hate and anger themselves. They must realize these struggles cannot be won by force or questioning the integrity of those with whom they disagree. People of goodwill, for instance, will not see the problem of police brutality if others in protest kneel during the national anthem. Rather, they will see disrespect for the flag and the military. Show people of goodwill respect and the degradations with which others contend will in time be revealed to them.
The secret of the civil rights movement’s success is that it lives today in black college graduates, women managing corporations in board rooms and the elderly who are allowed to lead productive lives well into the twilight of their time. The secret of the civil rights movement is that it has improved the lives of countless millions of Americans in terms of employment prospects, housing, voting rights and quality of life. This improvement continues today.
Unfortunately, some lessons of the civil rights movement have become lost in our busy and hectic lives. We have become unaware of our many blessings and opportunities because of our selfishness. We have turned from a nation that once thought in terms of right and wrong to a nation that now thinks in terms of profit and loss. We have become a nation whose citizens now attempt to force their own personal values upon the beliefs of others. We have become a nation too busy to be bothered with the welfare of others in need.
As we mark not only Dr. King’s birth but, later this year, the 50th anniversary of his assassination, let us adjust the laws of this nation for the benefit of all Americans and not just for the wishes of a selfish few. Let us honor the legacy of the civil rights movement by establishing our own noble causes. Let us establish integrity in our lives and raise up the spirits of anyone with whom we come into contact. Allow the fruits of your labors to enable your children to stand at your grave and proudly proclaim, “Here lies the spirit of a great American.”
May your children be so inspired by the life you have lived that they too will carry forth into the future the noble legacy of the civil rights movement. May we never allow the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to perish from the heart and soul of America.