- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

You don’t have to be a child of the ‘60s to be aware of the role Martin Luther King Jr. played in helping to bury Jim Crow, and the fact that a memorial is under construction on the National Mall is but one small measure of what the man stood for in life and has come to represent in death. Nearly 39 years after his assassination, America still speaks of making real his dream of a colorblind world. Ground on the King memorial was broken in November, and we face still another reality: The memorial will not become a reality without more money — an estimated $29.6 million more.

Donate now (buildthedream.org).

Make no mistake: Martin Luther King Jr. was not perfect. In fact, no human being is.

King was, however, an American humanitarian and man of the cloth who accepted his fate as a leader during some of the most turbulent times of our nation, casting himself in one of the three roles cast upon all Americans once the Supreme Court handed down one of the most definitive race rulings of all time in 1954: rise up against segregated America; stand among the status quo; or sit on the sidelines.

There’s no need to feel guilty or shamed if you or your family placed yourselves in either of the latter two roles. While the images of Bull Connor, and those like him, are forever ingrained in America’s collective psyche, his hoses and attack dogs were laid to rest long ago. As long as Americans dream King’s dream, there will be no resurrections — of “Bombingham,” designated seats on the back of the bus or water-fountain signs (“colored” and “white”) that would leave a black little girl wondering where the Asians drank.

The whole cloth of today’s America remains quilted of motley labels to divide and conquer — and blacks and Christians oft-times are easy fools in the race game. But face it, while the wounds of this relatively young country must be tended to on occasion, the mere fact that the deepest wounds are older than the dirt that covers Jim Crow’s grave is a blessing from heaven itself.

Thomas Jefferson was famously conflicted about slavery, yet he hoped “under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.”

Abraham Lincoln “freed” American slaves in 1863, by exercising his presidential war powers, proclaiming, in part, “that all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

One hundred years following Lincoln’s proclamation, King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his remarkable “I Have a Dream” speech. As we all know, he juxtaposed Jefferson’s America with Lincoln’s America: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.”

Then, as only King could then, he struck the ultimate American value chord, the very chord whose notes, for the most part, only applied, by law, to white Americans: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ ”

Now, the amen corner back then was only about a half-million strong, and while it was hardly colorblind — white celebrities like Charlton Heston, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra were unwavering supporters of civil rights — the bottom line is that it took the blood, life and fears of King to get the point across. King, but not his dream, was struck down by gunshots on a motel balcony five short years later.

Had there been no King, Bull Connor and his fellow KKK members would be also-rans. Had there been no King, the Kennedys (Jack and Bobby) would have had fewer political migraines. Had there been no King, LBJ wouldn’t have “caved to the coloreds.” Had there been no King, Sen. Robert Byrd wouldn’t be canonized for his blustery behavior that set a filibuster record on the Senate floor. The topic? The 1964 civil-rights bill.

People say God acts in mysterious ways. To know God is to know his ways aren’t mysterious at all.

Four decades after Robert Byrd showed his true colors, which used to hide under his KKK robe, the gentleman from West Virginia stepped to the other side of the color barrier and — ahem — proposed $10 million in federal funds to the bill establishing the King memorial, remarking: “With the passage of time, we have come to learn that his Dream was the American Dream, and few ever expressed it more eloquently.”

There were a lot of folks on the Mall on Nov. 13, 2006, for the groundbreaking. Jesse Jackson, of course. President Bush, Dorothy I. Height and Oprah — all paying homage.

Lincoln and Jefferson were there, too. Martin Luther King Jr. is expected to join that pantheon in 2008 — but only if Americans finish what Americans started. Do your part.

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