As with most historical figures, as time passes, our recollection of The Reverend Doctor King changes. It’s sometimes hard to believe that so few years ago we had legally enforced segregation. That the Pentagon had separate bathrooms for blacks and whites because of Virginia law. That Norfolk shut down its public school system rather than integrate. That Rosa Parks was arrested for keeping her seat on a public bus.
Dr. King brought these ugly facts to the forefront, but did so in a way that made it impossible to ignore.
We all think of ourselves as the “good guys” and prior to the 1960s, equality was not something we wanted to think about. Whites weren’t biased, it’s just that blacks and whites were seen as different, or so we wanted to believe.
It’s true, blacks and whites are different. Not because of being black or white, but because each of us is an individual and every individual is different. It took us a long time to figure this out.
Today we look around and congratulate ourselves on making a lot of progress. We have a black president starting his second term. Neighborhoods are integrated. Mixed families are becoming more common.
However, making progress is different from reaching a goal.
It’s because Columbus found land in the New World that he’s renowned, not because he set sail. Armstrong wasn’t the first astronaut to head to the moon, he was the first to actually get there. Progress is good, but it’s only a step in the right direction.
We’re making progress, but we need to continue.
Today we may see Dr. King as an icon – an ideal. Like Washington, Lincoln, and so many others, in life he was not a marble statue but just another individual. The difference is that people like Washington, Lincoln, and King took on the challenges, took the heat, and told us what we needed to hear, whether we wanted to hear it or not. King was a man, not an icon, but that’s what makes what he did so monumental. He stood up when others feared to.
Celebrate tomorrow as a day that marks one more step forward for humanity.