The 40th Anniversary of Dr. King’s Assassination (April 04, 2008)

Forty years ago, Civil Rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. He was 39 year old.

This April 4, thousands will reverently commemorate the fortieth anniversary of his assassination. They will converge on Memphis and Atlanta, King’s birthplace, and join in symposia, conferences and intimate church gatherings across the nation.

At those gatherings, people will inevitably be asking themselves: how much has changed since we lost Dr. King four decades ago? How far have we come since his death? How far must we still travel to realize his vision for our nation?

On the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, Americans will recall when blacks had to use “colored” bathrooms. When water fountains and lunch counters were segregated. When southern universities were for whites only. When restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues were off limits to blacks – whether by decree or by deed.

That level of legally sanctioned racism is now in the past. In fact, a group of American professors even claimed that racism is dead a few years ago, in a column printed by the venerated Wall Street Journal.

Those professors’ minority opinion, however, isn’t reflected in the socio-economic reality of life in American today. While tremendous legal and social progress has been made, America remains a nation divided. The justice and equality Dr. King empowered Americans to reach for are still an unrealized dream.

The rifts have shifted, however, albeit subtly. The greater chasm today is along the fault lines of economic inequality. Yet that economic divide is still, like in King’s time, decisively not color blind.

For current evidence, one needs to look no further than New Orleans – and to the vast community of low-income people still decimated from the havoc of Hurricane Katrina. Those most affected by the hurricane – those still homeless – are, overwhelming, black.

Despite the long road still ahead to realize King’s vision for America, a top King aide, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker sees reason for optimism.

“I think Barack Obama’s candidacy is the front edge of Dr. King’s dream; I’m more excited about it than anything else,” Walker told New York Daily News columnist Errol Lewis. “It goes toward fulfilling Dr. King’s instruction that we be more concerned about a person’s character than the color of his skin.”

Regardless of your political persuasion, let Dr. King’s legacy inspire you on the anniversary of his assassination. Honor Dr. King by honoring his call for social justice.