Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear all,

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and I would like to take a moment to think about how we remember him. In the past, we have reflected on a select moment and quote that represent his essential contributions to our world. For some, this is the MLK of the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott, or the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, or “The Letter from Birmingham Jail,” or in the pulpit of Riverside Church preaching his famous anti-war speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” exactly one year before he was assassinated, April 4 1968.

Instead of focusing on one moment or set of words, today we might consider the breadth, fullness, and evolution of MLK’s words and actions. What made him remarkable was not only his commitment to anti-racism and justice but also the way those guiding values led him to speak about a far-reaching range of concerns. MLK connected anti-Black racism in the South to racism in the North and persistent poverty in America and ultimately to concerns of poverty, racism, and injustice worldwide. If an issue stirred King’s passion, King spoke about it and sought ways to address that issue. Nothing was beyond his gaze.

And MLK sought to turn what he learned through this capacious gaze into action. In his book, Where Do We Go From Here? King wrote: “No society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay.” King’s words underscore the importance of evaluating and reevaluating our history and, then, asking how that history should move us to act today. His legacy is clear: a society will not achieve justice unless it is committed daily to evaluating itself and working on ways to respond with greater equity and justice.

On this MLK day, let us consider the obligations that we have to face our pasts and continue to review where we are as a bridge to building more just and beloved communities for our futures.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604