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It has been 50 years.
Five decades have passed since a bullet found its target on April 4, 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Minutes later, Martin Luther King Jr. was pronounced dead in a Memphis hospital. It was three months after King’s 39th birthday.
His Jan. 15 birthday was first proposed as a national holiday in 1979. However, it took more than four years to get Congress to approve the holiday.
The first observance wasn’t until 1986.
In the 50 years since King’s assassination, we have seen a lot of progress toward a achieving his dream. Our country has seen black Americans gain freedoms and achieve milestones that would have been impossible without the work of King and those who stood with him.
However, it is becoming more apparent each day that our country dialed back the clock on civil rights when we followed our first black President with a man in office who constantly reveals his racist tendencies. King said, “ ... the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” In the last year we’ve seen the moral arc of the universe bend away from justice toward hate, bigotry and the acceptance of discrimination by people who know better but refuse to stand up against a man who belittles an entire continent with crass and racist epithets.
As King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
In one year in office, Donald Trump has continued to support his foolish belief that Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii. Recently, Joe Arpaio, a man Trump pardoned for criminal acts announced he was running for Senate in Arizona and renewed the claim that Obama’s birth certificate was faked.
When given a chance to condemn racists and white supremacists, Trump frequently chooses instead to justify their beliefs and actions. No administration since the end of the Civil War has done more to normalize hateful beliefs and rhetoric.
So far this year, in addition to direct remarks by the president, we have:
• A Kansas lawmaker repeated 1930s era beliefs that marijuana affects black people more than white people.
• City employees in Warner, Oklahoma were recorded discussing Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The workers called the holiday “n----- day” and even joked that they like to call it “James Earl Ray Day” referring to the man who killed King in 1968.
• A team in a Cincinnati youth basketball league put fake names on the back of their jerseys like “Coon” and “Knee Grow.” The team was removed from the league. But how can a group of adults plan and execute something like this without one ounce of shame?
Trump continued his personal pattern of racial insensitivity when he held a meeting with lawmakers to discuss immigration policies and called for the end of the Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from Haiti and used hateful, racist language to express his belief about African nations and their residents.
Trump’s base is very small. Only about a third of the country support him and his policies. But for those who are still behind him, there is apparently nothing he can do to lose their support. In the past 12 months, he has done more than anyone could have imagined to alienate supporters and our allies. Those who are left, have their reasons.
“I know a lot of times he is saying what people are thinking,” said Rep. Jim Renacci of Ohio. He is probably right, and that is unfortunate for all of us. Mainstreaming ideas like this for partisan gain damages the fabric and foundation of our nation.
Responding to Trump’s latest comments, Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi said, “How America elected a narcissist, racist, white supremacist to be their president defies logic. Africa sends love and light to America.”
The most appalling thing about Trump’s most recent racist demonstration is his role in the annual proclamation of the holiday honoring Dr. King. President Trump said at a ceremony that “No matter the color of your skin, we are all equal by God.”
Isaac Newton Farris Jr., King’s nephew, was at that ceremony and said he doesn’t believe Trump is necessarily “racist in the traditional sense” but he does believe the President is “racially ignorant and uninformed.”
King also had thoughts on how his nephew defined Trump’s racial beliefs.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” King said.
But one of the best quotes that King spoke while fighting for civil rights is, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
I hope that day never comes for me. I have a son from a country insulted by the president. Every day he faces challenges because of the color of his skin. King had a dream that one day, my son’s skin wouldn’t be the factor used in judging him. King dreamed of a day where my white son and my black son would both be judged only by the content of their character.
It has been 50 years, and we still haven’t come close to achieving that dream. Today’s political environment requires that we all make a conscious effort to pull our nation’s moral arc back toward justice.
Because, in the words of Dr. King, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kent Bush: Dialing back the clock on civil rights
[Eds: Note use of vulgarity “n-----” in story.]