A special legacy fit for ‘King’

Even now, a half-century after his death, debate continues regarding the life and legacy of America’s civil rights giant, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

His goals, successes — and even his unwanted outcomes — will no doubt continue to be subjects of study by many generations, going forward.

While his dedication-to-cause always will be the object of a measure of fascination by Americans, there will be more than a few people, nevertheless, who will put forward arguments for why negative judgments are justified.

That is common inside and outside of politics. The same is true regarding individuals who achieve greatness in their particular endeavors or pursuit of causes, sometimes paying a heavy price in the process.

King gave his life while working on behalf of full equality for black Americans. America is a better place because of what he was able to do, although, even now, his mission remains unfinished.

Unfortunately, there continues to be a racist agenda in this country, though not of the extent that existed during the years preceding his assassination in 1968.

On this national holiday established to celebrate King’s birth, most people can agree that America probably would be different in numerous ways if King hadn’t stepped to the forefront to battle racial discrimination.

His was a fight built on a foundation of nonviolence and moderation, rather than violence, although there are some people today who continue to think otherwise.

Time Books’ “1968, The Year That Changed the World,” which recounted King’s assassination on April 4 of that year, events leading up to it and the assassination’s aftermath, made the point that although King didn’t invent the burgeoning movement for civil rights for American blacks, “he galvanized it with his soaring oratory, gave it momentum and steered it toward nonviolence.”

The book goes on to say his mission reached its peak in the March on Washington of August 1963, when King challenged the nation with his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial during which he proclaimed, “I have a dream.”

The consensus of many at that time was that his dream seemed to be becoming reality.

Time magazine named him Person of the Year 1963, and in 1964 he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nonetheless, to some blacks, the pace of civil rights gains was too slow and the rewards were too meager.

To a new generation of black militants that was emerging, his strategy of nonviolence and moderation had come to seem naive, outmoded and even suicidal.

As the publication “1968” recounts, “black militants would use his murder to cry that ‘the civil rights movement is dead.’ But they had said it long before his assassination.”

Prior to his death, he had “heard himself publicly called an Uncle Tom by radicals out to steal both headlines and black support,” the Time book points out.

Conflicting debate over his legacy at this time stems in part from that dissention he experienced while alive.

A number of states initially opposed creation of this national holiday, but they were wrong and President Ronald Reagan was right when he signed the holiday into law in 1983.

The holiday was first observed three years later, but it wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states officially observed it without an alternative name or combined with other holidays.

As you reflect on today’s observance, be among those who acknowledge King’s successes and contributions to America.

His life truly merits this honor.