How ironic it is that President Donald Trump added even further to his ever-growing list of racist comments this past week as Americans were readying to observe Dr. Martin Luther King Day, which has added significance this year as this April will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King in a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Trump’s horrible statements at a meeting with senators and congressmen not only have shown that he is an unrepentant racist, but the muted response from most of our Congress and others clearly has demonstrated that as much as things have changed for the better in the past 50 years in terms of racial equality in our society, it also is clear that we still have a long way to go before we can say that persons are judged not by the color of their skin — as Trump suggests — but by the content of their character, as Dr. King famously phrased it in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
Every school child of the past 30 years or so has learned about the life-story of Dr. Martin Luther King. But an elementary school textbook can only do so much in its portrayal of an historical figure; it cannot convey the extent to which Dr. King brought about real change in our country.
For those of us old enough to recall the 1960s, a time when racial segregation prevailed throughout half of our country and overt racism throughout the other half, Martin Luther King stands as one of the great leaders in American history, a man whose stirring words and perseverance in his cause changed forever the historical trajectory of race relations in America.
It is clear that there is a political movement in our country — which is just as pernicious as Trump’s overt, alt-right racism — that seeks to take away many of the hard-fought gains of the past 50 years, and that we have a Congress, a Supreme Court, state legislators, and governors who are all-too-happy to oblige in this endeavor.
The shootings and deaths of African-Americans while in police custody that have shocked all of us in the past few years are just the tip of the iceberg. Much more significant have been the judicial decisions that have stripped away key provisions of the Voting Rights Act; the criminal penalties that impose the disproportionate treatment and incarceration of minorities for drug-related offenses; and the voter ID and gerrymandering laws in many states that, in the words of a federal court in North Carolina, attain with surgical precision the goal of preventing people of color from being fairly represented in government at all levels.
“What would Dr. Martin Luther King do?” we often ask ourselves. We can’t say for sure, but we do know that although Dr. King accomplished much in his lifetime, he would be the first to acknowledge that the struggle for equality for which he gave his life still is far from complete.
We can only hope that his spirit and courage can continue to inspire the present and future generations of Americans to bring us a world in which every person, regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin, is treated with dignity and respect