COMMENTARY by ED MIHALKANIN
We all know that we are facing the worst national crisis since the Great Depression, and yet, the mood of the citizens celebrating Dr. Martin Luther king Jr. Day Monday on the Hays County Courthouse square was one of hope and pride.
Not a little of that has to do with today. Within hours, this country will swear in the first African-American President in the history of the United States.
But just hours ago, we honored King and the President who might have made Barack Obama possible. It was the Texas State alum, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who said he was giving the Republican Party to the South for a generation when he signed landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Monday’s ceremonies wound around to the intersection of MLK and LBJ Drives, where a monument to King and Johnson to be constructed.
It’s been a couple generations since King and Johnson went so far to re-shape the contours of American race relations. Those observing MLK Day in San Marcos certainly recognized the gravity of the situation facing our country in a new day. At the same time, they permitted themselves to celebrate a great American hero and the promise of a new presidency.
Frankly acknowledging the seriousness of a threat while having confidence that we will overcome that threat is a quintessential attitude of United States citizens. That is why on inauguration eve, it was fitting to celebrate King’s life and work.
If you think about it, what a country chooses to celebrate as national holidays speaks volumes about the character of that country.
By agreeing to celebrate King’s birthday as a national holiday, we, as Americans, are thanking him for his leadership in helping to end the U.S. apartheid in the South and helping us to better live up to our ideals of equality and liberty. We are admitting that we betrayed the promise of our national birth enshrined in the Declaration of Independence for far too long.
Very few countries have established a national holiday that, in and of itself, is an admission of a national moral failing.
King recognized both the principles that our country has attempted to live by and how we failed to live up to those principles. In pointing out our failures, he never separated himself from his country or his fellow citizens.
In his Letter From Birmingham Jail and in his public career, King asked all Americans to cross the racial divide, because what united us was greater than what divided us. He consistently appealed to people on the basis of a common faith, a common nationality and a common humanity.
King believed in the truthfulness of the old Latin phrase that is on the Great Seal of the United States – E Pluribus Unum – From Many People One People.
As we go into the world during the new year, it is fair to take pride in what our country has done to realize the principles of equality and liberty during the last century for all of its citizens. But it is also fair to challenge ourselves by recognizing that we are not perfect, that there still is inequality and injustice here and that bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination still stalk our land.
And so Dr. King’s life is a call to each of us to work each day to make our country better for all of its citizens, so that America will become a sanctuary from the sickness of racism and, in Dr. King’s words, become “the beloved community.” With our first African-America President soon to take office, we should still listen to King, now as much as ever.
COVER: Martin Luther King (right) and Lyndon Johnson (background, left) worked for civil rights in a day long before an African-American President was imaginable. PHOTO via LIBRARY OF CONGRESS