By Elijah Cummings
On April 4, America will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest hours in our national history. We will pause to recall that heartbreaking moment in Memphis, Tennessee, when an assassin’s bullet cut short the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There will be those whose vision of those terrible days will be the product of televised images: pictures of rioting; cities burning; federal troops, with weapons drawn, patrolling our streets….
Those of us who were young in 1968 can attest that the tortured events conveyed in these archives of our past were real. We can affirm that the social upheaval that followed the murder of the man who became our nation’s greatest prophet tore at the fabric of our civilization.
We can acknowledge that, when a people’s aspirations are first raised to unimaginable heights – and then brutally dashed – there will be those who will react with unthinking and violent destruction.
We can concede all of this about 1968 because those events revealed a truth about human nature that Dr. King well understood.
Yet, the upheaval that followed Dr. King’s murder was only one aspect of the truth about our national character that began to be revealed in 1968. A deeper and more lasting truth about that difficult time – a truth that has direct relevance to the time in which we now live – is this.
Tragic events and unjust circumstances cannot be ignored. They force each of us to make a choice. When Dr. King was taken from us, thousands may have rioted – but millions of Americans, women and men of good will from every background and ethnic heritage, stared into the depths of our hearts and souls and chose to make a commitment.
Out of our pain grew our passion to make Dr. King’s dream a reality – a “blessed community” of justice, opportunity and peace – not only for those of us who are Americans of Color but for everyone.
During the decades that followed, those of us who were young in 1968 have faltered at times, but, in the main, we have done all that we could to keep those promises that we made to Dr. King’s memory, to each other and, above all, to ourselves.
We have worked to advance an uplifting vision for humanity, drawn to the same vocation that the holy books of every religion command us to pursue.
Most encouraging of all, when my generation has been tempted by doubt, younger Americans have stepped forward to renew our faith.
I share these reflections about Dr. King’s legacy with you for a reason.
Just as we were challenged in 1968, our current realities now demand that each of us choose how to respond. Once again, as in 1968, our nation is struggling to overcome forces of societal conflict, official inhumanity and calculated distrust that far surpass anything that we have been required to endure in the last five decades.
Once again, there are those in national power who are seeking to dominate our nation by dividing us from our countrymen and women – false leaders whose governing strategy is grounded in the Hobbesian dictum, “Bellum omnium contra omnes,” the war of all against all.
Once again, hundreds of millions of Americans are going to sleep at night deeply troubled – not only dismayed, but acutely afraid of what appalling developments the morning may bring.
I frankly declare these dangers to us all because those of us who were raised up to adulthood and citizenship by Dr. King and the social and political movement he helped to lead are not naïve, not afraid and, above all, not defeated.
We have endured and overcome these dangers before, and we understand the writ of history.
Our nation’s darkest hours have often been just before the dawn – and so it can be again, if an engaged citizenry stands up, marches together demands the light.
The principal objectives and demands of the American people are clear, the aspirations of 1968 carried forward to the present day:
– A nation that is strong, but also one that uses its military and economic strength to create rather than destroy, uses its police power to protect rather than oppress, and offers economic opportunity to all;
– A President who understands and respects that he is not a monarch, but is as bound by our Constitution and laws as is every other American; and
– A Congress that is willing to act as an effective check and balance on abuses of executive power, that works together for the common good without regard to partisan influence, that listens and responds to the people, and that understand that political compromise is not a betrayal, but, rather, the only way that our nation can move forward together.
This vision of our objectives in 2018 is fundamentally the same as Dr. King’s vision in 1968; and I am convinced that an American majority is ready to march into that light – the light of our democracy restored.
Those who seek to lead should take heed. As Dr. King used to remind us, there is nothing more powerful than the rhythm of marching feet, the marching feet of a determined people
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