Where Are We 55 Years Since Dr. King's Death?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 55 years ago, and many of his hopes and dreams for America in terms of racial equality are yet to make as much progress as he likely would have hoped.

“Dr. King would be very concerned about where we are and would be pushing and advocating for us to address this issue once and for all,” said Dr. Yohuru Williams, who is a distinguished professor of history and director of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“We have made some progress in terms of dialogue,” he said. But, “we have to tackle these issues of poverty; we have to think about segregation and racial inequality.”

john lewis and yohuru williams
Dr. Yohuru Williams (right) with the late Rep. John Lewis, who marched alongside King in the 1960s

Williams pointed out a quote from one of King’s speeches: “We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few,” King said in September 1967 during a keynote speech to the annual conference of the American Psychological Association.

He called for “creative maladjustment,” wherein people refuse to normalize inequality and work continuously to expose injustice so that, “we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”

As we honor King’s legacy, Williams suggests that we not limit it to the ideals of the one person. “Even though we are honoring the legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King as an ancestor’s day, who are the other women and men in our history who were advocates for civil rights and racial equality?”

And it’s time for people to move beyond reflection and take action, Williams said. “We have seen the holiday evolve. At first, it was a day to commemorate a man who lost his life. In the mid-’90s, it moved to a day of service. This year, I think we hear a lot of people articulating the need for us to use King Day to make yearlong commitments to racial equity and justice. The lesson we can take from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King (is) freedom is a constant struggle. It requires all of us to commit daily to push for racial equality in this country.”