672 Martin Luther King, Jr. did not give up. We who fight for democracy must follow his example
Day 672 Monday, January 17, 2022
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not give up. We who fight for democracy must follow his example
On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is perhaps more important than ever to recall King’s immortal expression of hope, a paraphrase of a 19th-century abolitionist minister:
“The arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice.”
King’s hope for the future was not an invitation for complacency.
The arc of the moral universe will not bend itself.
King preached both urgency and patience — nonviolent perseverance in the face of fire hoses, dogs, beatings, lynchings. Every second of marginalization was intolerable. Yet it took a decade after King’s 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott for Congress to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Enslaved Americans had been freed a century before. King did not lose hope. He kept working. He believed that most people feel compassion for their fellow human beings, even if it can take time for some to recognize themselves in others — and even more for this recognition to change minds.
Though the challenges today are different, it is increasingly hard to hold on to this hope and faith in each other. Compassion across political and social disagreements appears to be disappearing. Abhorrent beliefs are hardening rather than softening. Americans increasingly refuse to venture outside their bubbles — physical and virtual zones of the like-minded that are filled with varying amounts of misinformation.
Thus, a once-in-a-century pandemic is exacerbated by people who refuse to accept miracle vaccines and the politicians who pander to them. A disturbingly large number of voters, concentrated on the right, now believe that anti-democratic violence is acceptable. And, most important for King’s legacy, the political system is failing to protect the voting rights of minorities in the United States.
The Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act. Republican-run states have since passed waves of laws that are designed to make voting harder, with a disproportionate impact on minority communities. There was once a bipartisan commitment in Congress to protect all Americans’ voting rights. Now, Republicans block bills that would impose modest minimum standards for voting access and they balk at efforts to repair the Voting Rights Act they once overwhelmingly supported.
King would not have lost hope. He would have kept working. “The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions.
But we must keep going,” he declared in Montgomery in 1965.
It is crucial to seize every opportunity for progress, even if it feels small and insufficient in the moment. Senate Republicans are poised to block voting access bills this upcoming week, and Democratic holdouts refuse to change the chamber’s rules to ease their passage.
But some have expressed interest in insulating the election process from partisans who would subvert the results. As important as enabling Black Americans to vote is ensuring that their votes are counted over the objections of those seeking to label their ballots illegitimate.
If there is an opportunity to make even a small amount of progress, leaders of conscience must seize it. Then they should redouble their efforts — in towns, cities, counties, states, the courts and Congress — to do more. King’s hope for the future was not an invitation for complacency.
The arc of the moral universe will not bend itself.
- Reflection by The Washington Post
An excerpt from a 1967 speech at Stanford University entitled "The Other America,"
by Dr. King
"There can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white groups. There can be no separate white path to power and fulfillment short of social disaster. It does not recognize the need of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and justice. We must come to see now that integration is not merely a romantic or esthetic something where you merely add color to a still predominantly white power structure. Integration must be seen also in political terms where there is shared power, where black men and white men share power together to build a new and a great nation.
In a real sense, we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. John Donne placed it years ago in graphic terms, "No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." And he goes on toward the end to say, "Any man's death diminishes me because I'm Involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee." And so we are all in the same situation: the salvation of the Negro will mean the salvation of the white man. And the destruction of life and of the ongoing progress of the Negro will be the destruction of the ongoing progress of the nation."
Now let me say finally that we have difficulties ahead but I haven't despaired. Somehow I maintain hope in spite of hope. And I've talked about the difficulties and how hard the problems will be as we tackle them. But I want to close by saying this afternoon, that I still have faith in the future. And I still believe that these problems can be solved. And so I will not join anyone who will say that we still can't develop a coalition of conscience.