Forty years ago today, Martin Luther King failed to reach the promised land he so longed for. He was assassinated the day after the speech he delivered where he told his audience he had seen the promised land but “may not get there with you.” Many believed it was a premonition of his death. The tension that followed his assassination led many more to believe that America would be polarized even further and that his death would set equality rights between the races back further. But America survived because politicians like Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and many others continued the work of Dr. King. Now, America is on the verge of making an historic decision whether its next chief executive will be an African American or its first woman president.
One may be tempted to associate this progress with the fact Martin Luther King’s vision of America may have gradually captured the hearts of its citizens. King’s America was one of a struggle for human rights. The Civil Rights battle that he inspired and led in the 50’s and 60’s has helped define the current context for this year’s presidential election. It was King who said “that we should judge a person not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.” While these words were inspiring and true, America has, since King’s death, fallen short of his dream.
The question of race remains America’s original sin. We see its ugly head occasionally surface, leading many to believe that while there has been progress, much remains to be done. The recent speech by Senator Obama on race at the height of the Pastor Wright controversy once again reminded American that we are still far from ‘the more perfect union.’ Today, three-quarters of Americans claim they could vote for an African American as President. This is encouraging, but it does indicate that the color of a person’s skin can still be a factor in the choice of a president.
On this day of commemorating Dr. King’s death, we may be tempted to conclude that Obama must win the next election for Dr. King’s vision to be a reality. This would not be an accurate understanding of what Dr. King preached. The very fact that Americans are considering Obama (and Hillary Clinton for that matter) as serious candidates for the presidency brings us closer to what Martin Luther King believed. He would be proud and satisfied while not completely comforted in the belief that America has achieved ‘the more perfect union’. The coming months will give us the opportunity to measure even further the progress achieved in this republic of the south. In 1776, America fought against the monarchy but today in 2008, America remembers its King.