By Matthew Sotlar
Americans celebrated what would have been the 95th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15. Although he has been gone for nearly 56 years, I often wonder how his legacy has been upheld.
There is no debate about it: Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest men to have walked on Earth. He was a powerful orator and a beautiful soul with a heart and mind set on peace. Along with Medgar Evers and Rosa Parks, King worked tirelessly toward integrating a racially divided America in the 1950s and 1960s.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote, “All men are created equal,” King echoed these sentiments. He and other fervent civil rights advocates hosted peaceful protests. They sat in white-only areas of segregated diners and marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Those are just a few of the non-violent actions taken to ensure all men were treated equally.
Virtually everyone knows of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — one of the most iconic speeches in American history. King gave the speech to a crowd of over 250,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Sadly, like with many of history’s great advocates for peace, King was killed. He was shot by white supremacist and fugitive James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. He died only an hour later. Ray was arrested two months later and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
There has been much speculation as to the true nature of King’s death. Some suspect the government had King assassinated, and King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, stated she did not believe Ray was the shooter.
Scott King, who was also an equal rights activist, experienced various health complications and died in 2006.
Many other activists were persecuted and killed for their calls for unity. Evers was killed five years earlier in 1963, and Malcolm X in 1965. Bobby Kennedy, a civil rights advocate and Democratic nominee hopeful, was killed two months after King.
Even now, there is division in America. Black or white, Democrat or Republican, male or female — when it comes down to it, everyone has their own opinion and everyone believes their opinion is correct. Is this really what King wanted?
What would King think if he could see us now in 2024? Would he be proud of all of the change he fought for? Would he be upset by the clear division still present in America? Civil rights are still an ongoing issue in America, but it seems like the country has turned a deaf ear to this.
America is constantly concerned with the threat of war from any nation at any given time. This is a concern, albeit a rather unfounded one. The delay in progress when it comes down to civil rights is appalling.
It was only in 2015 when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. The Emmett Till Antilynching Act — which makes lynching a hate crime — was passed only in 2022. Thinking that this act was not passed until 2022 makes me uneasy. How did America turn a blind eye to so many injustices?
2024 will be a very stressful year. With a highly anticipated, hotly debated election looming over us, America is more divided than ever. Americans seem to have forgotten that under everyone’s skin, we all bleed red. What if we tried to preserve King’s legacy this year? Wouldn’t that truly make America great again?