Today, more than four decades after his death, the legacy and contributions of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the sacrifices he made to bring justice to African Americans and to challenge America to live up to its ideals, are being celebrated more than ever before. King’s birthday has been recognized as a federal holiday since 1986. More recently, King is the subject of a powerful new Broadway play, The Mountaintop, starring A-list actors Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of King’s assassination in 1968, has just unveiled an extensive makeover campaign. And earlier this year, we celebrated the establishment of the King Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., not far from where a living symbol of King’s legacy, Barack Obama, is finishing his first term as president of the United States of America.
It’s fair to say that we have done justice to King’s memory. But the truth is America has not done justice to his dream. In fact, I and the rest of King’s generation, now between the ages of 70 and 85, owe King an apology. Due to our lack of leadership and accountability, and despite the conspicuous success of a minority of African Americans, we have failed to do what it takes to lead our people to the promised land of freedom, equality, and the full measure of the American dream.
King’s dream was about equal opportunity and economic justice for all black Americans, not just an exceptional few. After making progress toward those goals into the late ’80s, we somehow lost our desire to pursue King’s agenda. Ultimately, we simply stopped fighting, as if we no longer believed that what King died for was worth continuing to sacrifice and fight for. And for that, Dr. King, I am sorry. You left us with an example and a challenge to make a better world for our children. And we’ve failed you.
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