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MLK words very much still relevant

On this national holiday honoring his birth, Americans are reflecting anew on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s indelible mark on this nation’s civil rights movement.

There will be many references today to his “I Have a Dream” speech given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That speech is regarded as his most famous, establishing his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.

Other remembrances today will reflect on his support of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn. That labor dispute is what brought him to the Tennessee city, where he was felled by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968, while standing on a balcony of a motel that now is part of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Today, many people will recall the following words from his last speech, delivered on the day before his murder: “I’ve been to the mountaintop” and “seen the Promised Land…we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Still other remembrances will center on his leadership role in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, whose goal was working in a nonviolent manner to bring an end to all forms of segregation, including voting laws prohibiting African Americans from casting ballots.

If King were alive today, in what is destined to be one of America’s most contentious political years, he no doubt would be deeply involved in urging black Americans to be on the proverbial front lines of voting.

And, beyond advocating and actively working on behalf of a record black voter turnout in state primaries and then for the general election on Nov. 3, he no doubt would lead protests against efforts to limit or discourage blacks from voting.

There have been a number of instances over the past couple of years in which states allegedly were trying to limit future black voting. Since 2010, at least 25 states have enacted new voting restrictions, at least some of which have been regarded as blatant attempts to deter blacks from future election participation.

When King addressed an NAACP rally at Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta on Jan. 1, 1957, he told a crowd of 7,000 that had spilled onto the sidewalks that “freedom must ring from every mountain side,” and he undoubtedly, on that day, was including the right to vote within all of that for which he was advocating.

America has changed in big ways since Oct. 19, 1960, when King was arrested after joining a student-led sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Atlanta. The times when blacks were limited in where they could sit on a bus, where they could attend school, or were prohibited from opening a business are, thankfully, gone forever.

But, unfortunately, part of the message in a headline in the Jan. 18, 2015, Mirror remains as true today as it was then — that parts of King’s dream remain unfulfilled.

Whether his dream takes a step backward — or not — during the caustic presidential campaigning to come over the next nine-plus months will say a lot about America today and its appreciation of all that to which Martin Luther King Jr. ascribed.

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