The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Inspirational civil rights leader left a great legacy, and more work to be done
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched onto the national stage in the mid-1950s, the United States was a country beset by widespread racism and inequality.
Throughout the Deep South, whites and blacks ate in separate restaurants, there were white and "colored" drinking fountains and restrooms, blacks rode in the back of the bus, and white and black children attended segregated schools.
Nearly all across the country, discrimination was shamefully pervasive, and educational and economic opportunities were in short supply for most African-Americans.
However, within a decade of King's emergence on the civil rights scene, and largely because of his inspirational leadership, dramatic improvements had been made in the lives of African-Americans.
So this week, on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of his birth on Jan. 15, 1929, it is fitting to pay tribute to King's role in creating a better America and to the impressive legacy he has left.
King was a powerful orator who preached nonviolent, civil disobedience and equality for all people.
He was a charismatic figure who helped break down barriers and influence national leaders to pass sweeping civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.
King brought the plight of southern blacks -- and the brutality of southern law enforcement agencies -- into the national consciousness in places like Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala.
And he inspired a whole nation with his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington.
As much as any man, King deserves credit for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and for the increased awareness of the economic as well as racial inequality in this country.
Tragically, King's life was ended by an assassin's bullet on April 4, 1968, when he was just 39 years old and still had so much more to offer.
And sadly, there was -- and still is -- so much more to be done to create the America envisioned by King.
To be sure, the lives of millions of African-Americans were improved and continue to be better because of King's efforts.
But to this day, black Americans -- and other people of color -- still have fewer opportunities than white Americans in a host of ways, and far too much discrimination against African-Americans still exists in myriad forums, including the justice system and via the recent watering down of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court.
King knew the road would be long and hard before America would become a land of equality.
On the night before he was assassinated, he made a prophetic speech.
"We've got some difficult times ahead," King told his followers. "But it doesn't matter to me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop ... and I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land.
"I may not get there with you," he said. "But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
In the spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is incumbent on all who believe in his cause to carry on with his work until his dream is truly a reality.