Other Voices

On MLK Day: Know history, embrace freedom

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd of some 3,000 persons in Birmingham, Ala., 1966.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd of some 3,000 persons in Birmingham, Ala., 1966. AP

The annual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday underscores a movement that changed our nation and honors a man who championed our foundational values.

This year, there’s more.

The 2017 observance is near the end of the period that has marked the 50th anniversary of many of the major events of the U.S. civil rights movement.

This month we witness the conclusion of the second term of our first African American president.

Many issues remain front-and-center in the debate over the significance of civil rights milestones.

Ongoing tensions exist in varying contexts from racial to geographical, judicial to political.

Navigating these complex issues demands that we know our history — not just our early history, when our values were enshrined in a system of governance — but our current history, strained by political and social conflict, when our understanding and commitment to these values continue to be tested.

We should know that while we have restricted the power of government to preserve liberty, we use that power to extend and protect freedom for the most diverse collection of people in world history.

We should know the history of our struggle with equality that has led us to a deeper understanding of the value of every human being.

We should know how we have affirmed opportunity for all and refined the role of government to provide it.

We must remember that the right of revolution validated in our Declaration of Independence resides now in our respect for the rule of law, as we challenge traditions and institutions through nonviolence, free speech, voting and advocacy.

We should fully value civic engagement, knowing that action not apathy, awareness not ignorance, faith not doubt, and sacrifice for the other not selfishness reveals the character of a community of free, individual persons.

We should recognize in our history that determination, while not so much enshrined in governance, is a vital force behind it — slowly moving it, shaping it and making it work for all people of this nation.

Put simply, we must know our history to embrace our freedom.

When we know our history, we will understand the values that have changed us over time.

We will affirm that these values have helped more and more people embrace freedom and be embraced by it.

Only when these values guide our political and social actions will we honor the legacy commemorated on MLK Day.

We will understand our obligation to our posterity: to promote and protect these values given to us and championed by Martin Luther King Jr. and by our forebears.

When we know our history, we will demonstrate to the world the character, determination and values of a people who are truly free.

Eric V. Morrow is an assistant professor of political science at Tarleton State University and chair of the school’s Department of Social Sciences.