Office of the President

April 4, 2018

Remembering the two halves to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy

Ana Mari Cauce

In 1968, as the nation mourned the loss of Martin Luther King Jr, the New York Times wrote that for many Black Americans, King was “the prophet of their crusade for racial equality,” while for Whites, he was a leader who “preserved the bridge of communication between races” through his steadfast commitment to non-violence. The undiminished power of his legacy is a testament to the strength of those two halves of his cause: a tireless quest for progress and an unyielding commitment to undertaking that quest peacefully.

Historian Michael Honey, who holds the Fred and Dorothy Haley Endowed Professorship of Humanities at UW Tacoma, has published a new book about King’s legacy, “To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice.” His work is a reminder that King’s vision was not limited to the visible markers of civil inequality, like separate drinking fountains and lunch counters, but also about the vast, systemic economic inequality that kept millions of people in poverty.

Today, we have abolished the most visible legal divisions in public life; on paper, at least, every citizen is equal under the law. But our society has some distance to go to realize King’s dream of true economic and civil equality. Race still matters when it comes to hiring and pay, interactions with law enforcement, judicial outcomes, access to health care and housing, and so many other aspects of life. We cannot take progress on these issues for granted – they will only improve if each of us takes responsibility to do our part to create change.

Today is a day to remember Martin Luther King, to grieve his assassination again and to remember the names of all the others, before and since, who have died too soon. Tomorrow, and every day after, is the day to keep working for change. In doing so, we keep moving toward King’s – and our – Promised Land.