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What would Dr. King think?

One wonders, as we look back on the tumultuous, divisive, harrowing year from which we have emerged, what kind of voice the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might have brought to the discussion as we try to heal. In the worst moments, his vision for this nation seemed as far away as ever. But the response to those moments often showed us at our best, and truly moving toward a “beacon light of hope to millions … who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”

In 1963, King told those who had marched in Washington, D.C., “And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. 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.”

Nearly 60 years later, would King, still, say “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned?” Would he, still, say that instead of honoring its sacred obligations, America had given a bad check, that has come back marked insufficient funds?

The events of the past several months show us that for millions of people, the answer to that question is “yes.”

We still have a great deal of work to do. We still have a great deal of listening and learning from one another to do. We must heal, we must move forward, and we must turn forever from the way things have always been; instead marching toward the great promise of what could be.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” King said in 1963. We cannot continue to ignore that call.

Yet despite our feeling of helplessness at times, King asked us all to hold on to hope. Hold on to faith. He knew that “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

If we do that — if we work with urgency toward fulfilling King’s dream — then we will, truly, be free at last.

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