The annual observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an occasion for the left to reinforce racial identity and radical politics, and for the right to criticize what the civil rights movement has become in the hands of King’s self-professed successors.
Certainly the Democratic presidential primary has provided material for the latter, as the contenders have rushed to kiss the ring of Al Sharpton — a notorious race-baiter responsible for much of the country’s current division.
It is sad that a day named for a leader whose legacy was a message — a prophecy! — of unity should be observed in such divergent ways. King preached about injustice in America — first racial injustice in the South, enshrined in law; then economic injustice in the North and elsewhere. But — this is crucial — he never saw America as the problem. He saw America, and its values, as the solution. He also saw black Americans as equal guardians of the American ideal.
King is remembered for many things, but especially two texts: his “I Have a Dream” speech, and his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The former is taught to elementary school children; the second appears more often in high school or college. King’s attack in his letter on white moderates — “more devoted to order than to justice,” he called them — provoked the New Left of the 1960s, and even today’s “woke” left, desperate to avoid the appearance of complacency.
But there is more to the letter than is typically taught, or remembered. King declared: “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America.” America was the solution, not the problem. That was the challenge King laid down — one that endures: America, be who we are, and whom the Founders intended us to be.