The upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday takes on added significance this year, on what would have been a special birthday for the iconic civil rights leader. On Tuesday, January 15, 2019, Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 90 years old.
Of course, King did not even live to reach middle age, being cut down by an assassin’s bullet while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday, April 4, 1968. The Lorraine Motel is now a national civil rights museum, offering a hopeful sign of the immense political and social transformations that have taken place since that fateful day.
Because of this 90th milestone, however, this year’s King holiday offers an annual opportunity for the nation to take stock of the struggle for black citizenship that turned a Baptist preacher from Atlanta, Georgia, into a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. It also allows us to assess the full measure of King’s message of racial equality, economic justice, and peace in our own time.
Americans too often praise the man while ignoring the message. Martin Luther King Jr.’s resounding and living legacy informs a range of contemporary social movements fighting for civil and human rights for the most marginalized and oppressed populations in America and around the world. King defined a “beloved community” as a place not only free of injustice, but a society that actively promotes an ethic of love, justice, and humanity in its legal, political, and civic life, as well as its religious, spiritual, and moral spheres.
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