America today commemorates what would have been the 88th birthday of its foremost civil-rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. — whose eloquent dreams surely never included being honored with a national holiday.
Nor did he ever likely expect that even his children would live to see an African-American president. Or to be surrounded by black men and women sitting in the halls of power, from Congress to universities to executive board rooms.
Race, in other words, is no longer the automatic barrier it once was — even if we still have not fully reached the point where people are judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
For that progress, we have Dr. King to thank. He turned the tide of history in just 13 short years, from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Poor People’s Campaign, before being cut down by an assassin at just 39.
And he did so not through coercion, but persuasion — by nonviolently asserting a moral authority that forced America to confront both its past and its present.