Ninety-two years after he was born and more than 53 years since his death, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hold special relevance to the world Americans live in today.

In the years since his assassination, King has been rightfully elevated to icon status, revered for his tireless civil rights work as well as some of the greatest oratories ever delivered by an American.

We remember King for his “I Have a Dream” speech, an uplifting message that prompted the nation to back some of the most important civil rights legislation of our times.

King led from the front, when the civil rights cause clashed with authorities who were determined to uphold segregationist laws and social norms that oppressed millions of Black Americans.

His home was bombed during the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. He was arrested numerous times. He, along with fellow protesters, faced down fire hoses, police dogs and officers’ batons, and did so while upholding the principle of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.

That sort of dignity in the face of oppression is part of what earned him so much respect and fueled the successful implementation of long-sought civil rights protections that helped elevate Black Americans toward equal status with whites.

Oft quoted and universally admired, it’s important to remember that this was not always so. King’s activism often made the moderate middle uncomfortable.

In his 1957 book “Stride Toward Freedom,” King wrote, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

King also said this about those who called themselves allies, but consistently dragged their feet:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” he said in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice…”

If King were alive today, he’d acknowledge the progress that has been made since the early days of the civil rights movement. But he’d also tell us that it’s an unfinished task.

Racial inequities still exist, and pointing them out – as well as their root causes – has produced a backlash. King would remind us to never give up.

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right,” he wrote.

Through all that, King was consistent. Whether his message encouraged us toward an ideal or scolded us for our failures, the standard never changed: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

May it be so.

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