From interracial friendships and integrated schools and neighborhoods to the present occupants of the White House, this country is far, far better off today than it was April 4, 1968.
That was the day, of course, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.
Dr. King is widely regarded as the best orator of his time, perhaps in American history.
But his oratory was in second place to his heart. He was an earnest believer in his faith, in volunteerism and in the rights of man.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a national holiday in 1986.
Today at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, there will be the annual bell ringing at the King statue on campus, plus the awarding of the Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award, as has become a tradition.
Unlike Presidents Day and some other holidays, most people need no reminding what this day is about. It’s not just another day off from work but a day to remember a great leader for America and, incidentally, the youngest person, at 35, ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
King had traveled to Memphis and arrived late to give one of the addresses for which he was in constant demand.
His plane was delayed by a bomb threat.
When he arrived, he gave what was to be his last speech.
It was, of course, the speech that became even more famous as his “Mountaintop” speech.
We reprint part of it here that addressed the spirit that had brought about the bomb threat:
“And then I got to Memphis,” he concluded after mentioning the delay.
“And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead.
“But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.
“And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Accolades continued to be showered on King after his death.
His principles of peaceful protest continued to be challenged for awhile by white supremacists here and there.
But we have now reached a point that is a long way short of perfection, but it is so much better than the day he was taken from us.
He made as big a difference in this country as any man since Abraham Lincoln.
And remember that King, unlike Lincoln, did not have an army at his back.