IN OUR OPINION
June 10, 2008 · Updated 5:50 PM
" IN OUR OPINION Times have changed, or have they? Times have changed since Martin Luther King led his freedom marches. Buses are integrated, lunch counters are open Ñbut there is still racism among other people who haven't quite made up their minds that we're all human beings and we should be treated equally. In 1955 in Montgomery, African Americans had peacefully asked for seats at an abundant table; but, many Caucasians began to believe the African Americans wanted the entire table for themselves. The racial violence King had fought against in life erupted in the aftermath of his murder. The movement he had led disintegrated in ashes, torn apart by demands the nation would not meet. Eighteen years later, President Ronald Reagan reluctantly signed the law that made King's birthday a national holiday, and today most school children know part of the story of Martin Luther King. They know King fought for integration in Montgomery and spoke in Washington D.C. of his dream. They do not know that until his life's end he fought for economic justice and against the racism that survived the laws the movement won, or that he had challenged America's right to make war in Vietnam. Today we do not honor the critic of capitalism, or the pacifist who declared all wars evil, or the man of God who argued that a nation that chose guns over butter would starve its people and kill itself. We honor an antiseptic hero. We have stripped his life of controversy, and celebrate the conventional instead. Americans prefer single, heroic leadership, the lone figure delivering salvation. King became that leader, but he came from a movement that was group-centered and represented democracy at its best. He did not march from Selma to Montgomery by himself. He did not speak to an empty field at the March on Washington. Thousands marched with him and before him, and thousands more who one by one and two by two did the work that preceded the triumphal march. A quarter of a century after his death, racism still cripples and crushes, but there is no King and little movement to fight it now. Written on a plaque in the hotel room in which King was killed are these words: Behold here comes the dreamer. Let us slay him, and we shall see what becomes of his dream. Today we remember and celebrate the man, but we have realized only half of his dream. "