Monday we celebrate a hero, right to vote for all

Published 7:00 am Friday, January 17, 2014

Monday is the day we celebrate the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, the iconic figure of the Civil Rights movement who was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

During his lifetime King never saw the almost universal admiration his memory enjoys today, and that is something we should remember at the same time we are celebrating his courage.

Many here in the United States, especially in Mississippi and the rest of the then segregated South, reviled King and his message of equality for all races. Many here found the ideas of racially mixed schools, blacks voting and blacks in public office repugnant and something some would go to any lengths to prevent.

Today, all public, and most private, institutions are integrated. Students of all races are found side-by-side in classrooms. Blacks vote without fear of retribution at the hands of ardent white supremacists. Blacks hold public office, including the presidency, many gaining those offices with the assistance of white voters.

Nearly all of these advances in race relations can be attributed to the courage of the non-violent Civil Rights activists that so occupied American life and the American political landscape beginning in the 1950s as the bastions of racial segregation slowly fell, and some might say are still falling.

King, through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, took charge of the often-fragmented Civil Rights movement and gave it the focus it needed to prevail and change the American political and cultural landscapes.

Sadly, that focus centered on King, the first president of the SCLC, and despite his message of non-violence, his enemies often chose violence as their means of expressing opposition, thus leading to King’s death.