Martin Luther King Jr. Day feels different in 2021. Following a tumultuous year and coming just two days before the inauguration of a new administration, this year’s MLK Day reminds us that freedom is never guaranteed and must always be defended.
Events of the past year have forced us to confront our nation’s complicated racial record, which has been filled with both great and sordid things. It seems that every step toward freedom has been followed by a setback.
- The Founders created the freest society in history, with a durable system of governance; but to make it happen, they permitted the institution of slavery to be written into its Constitution.
- A civil war split the nation, primarily over the issue of slavery. The nation abolished slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, guaranteed equal protection under the law to all races in the Fourteenth and suffrage to all races with the Fifteenth. Then that same nation permitted those rights to be denied during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.
- In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education desegregated the nation’s public schools, only to give rise to segregation academies, which continue to be enabled by today’s voucher programs and charter schools.
- A series of legislation including the Fair Housing Act of 1968 desegregated housing, and white flight re-segregated communities.
- In 2008 voters elected our first African-American President. Eight years later they elected a blatant white supremacist who did his best to reverse the policies of his predecessor. And then in November the largest popular vote turnout in American history elected a ticket which included the first black woman Vice President.
In two days, we will witness an unusual Presidential inauguration, celebrating the peaceful transfer of power in a city locked down following the first armed occupation of the Capitol building in over two centuries. State capitals across the country will resemble occupied cities.
Our nation’s seal proclaims e pluribus unum: from many, one. The testing of that ideal doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. One of our greatest challenges as a nation is to permit our diversity to be a source of strength and not division. We need to find our way to each other.
On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us all pray for our country and commit ourselves to work for a future of justice, equality, and peace.