“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.” When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote those stirring words in 1963, he was up to his neck in controversies, struggling to build a movement and gain support for the cause of civil rights at a time when the resistance from forces seen and unseen was overwhelming.
He had carried out successful voter registration drives in Georgia, Alabama, and Virginia by that time, and in August of 1963 he would lead the now legendary March on Washington. When he addressed that crowd of nearly a quarter million men, women, and children from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King laid out for all Americans a dream of reconciliation and renewal that would change the conversation about race relations forever. He helped America to understand that reconciliation isn’t about division but addition, and about the process of bringing us together as a nation.
King’s efforts worked! As a result of his personal sacrifice, the worst kinds of bigotry and oppression are much rarer now than they were a generation ago. King would be pleased that the nation no longer has 40 percent of black Americans living below the poverty line, along with another 20 percent barely financially solvent. Even though there still remains a significant income gap between whites and blacks in this country, blacks have come a long way. African Americans control an estimated $800 billion in annual purchasing power. “Black America” would be the 15th or 16th richest nation on earth, if its economic strength were expressed as a gross domestic product. This is an amazing achievement for one race in one generation. More amazing than the financial, educational, and entertainment achievements of the black community is the fact that in 2009 we will witness the swearing in of our nation’s first black president. Just one day after the 23rd federal celebration of the MLK day, Barack Obama will become the nation’s 44th president. Dr. King could not possibly have suspected that his speeches would have been so catalytic - literally changing the outlook and practices of the nation.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.