After he was gone, a new black intelligentsia arose that knew not Martin. His would not be the name embroidered on the baseball caps of another generation. The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. would give way to the frustrations of a Malcolm X, the demagoguery of a Louis Farrakhan, and the general hucksterism of the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons.
Today, any black leaders who don't adhere to the party line - a Ward Connerly or Clarence Thomas or Thomas Sowell - are called traitors to their race. Others are dismissed as "not black enough" because they reach out to all of us. This is the new racism, and it needs to be called such.
A new intolerance divides us by Race and Gender, and into Minority and Majority. It strives to make many out of one. It's called multiculturalism, and it reverses that most American of mottos: E Pluribus Unum.
But the light can be blinked only so long. John Marshall Harlan's old ideal of a color-blind Constitution still shines, and begins to be reflected in Supreme Court decisions - and in a general American indifference to racial appeals. Barack Obama runs for president not as a black candidate but as one more choice, and does well. Indeed, he demonstrates daily that a black presidential candidate can be as vacuous as any other. It's progress of a sort.
You can tell a lot about an age by the heroes it chooses. While the Malcolms and Farrakhans come and go in favor, Martin Luther King Jr. remains the standard by which all other leaders are measured, and not just black leaders. That's a hopeful sign.