Joe Henderson: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream remains a work in progress
Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in 2018 still comes with controversy.

mlk day
He would also know that hate and division today aren't exclusive to race

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for peace and equality in a world where too many people gave him or people of color neither.

Before a bullet ended his life on April 4, 1968, the equality he demanded for African Americans too often generated violence and deepening divisions. It wasn’t just in the South, either.

Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City were just a few cities across the nation that experienced racial turmoil.

I was a junior at Lebanon High School in Ohio when an assassin shot Dr. King in Memphis, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

My mother cried that night, and I think we all feared what was happening to our country. Just three years before Dr. King was murdered, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally outside my little town.

Adults rebuked our DeMolay chapter because a band we hired for a dance in the Masonic Lodge had a Black drummer, and that infuriated the local Masons. A district leader warned us not to do that again because Blacks had separate organizations, which was how they wanted things.

That was garbage, of course. Separation was the mantra for racists who insisted they didn’t have a racist bone in their bodies.

Whether overt like in the Deep South or more subtle in other states, segregation was just the way things were. It seems ridiculous now to remember how Blacks couldn’t attend public state universities or live where they wanted.

They often settled for low-wage jobs, police harassed them, and Whites mocked them. They believed Blacks should stay “over there”—wherever “over there” was.

But I wonder what Dr. King would say about today’s America?

I think he would lead another March on Washington to demand that Congress stop bickering about filibusters and pass national voting rights protections. He would support the goal of Black Lives Matter while stressing peace. He would speak out about George Floyd and Amaud Aubrey.

Dr. King would have gone to Charlottesville and condemned the big lie of a stolen presidential election. He wouldn’t stomach lawmakers who claim they’re not racist while supporting bills that deepen divides.

But he would also know that hate and division today aren’t exclusive to race, and he would respond accordingly.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said it tracks more than 1,600 extremist groups in the United States, including 68 in Florida. Today’s hate group might focus on Muslims, Jews, LGBTQs, or simply general hate.

The SPLC said those groups “peddle a combination of well-known hate and conspiracy theories, in addition to unique bigotries that are not easily categorized. Several of the groups seek to profit off their bigotry by selling a miscellany of hate materials from several different sectors of the white supremacist movement.”

History correctly records Dr. King as one of this country’s most important humans. A century after the Civil War, he forced this nation to admit that it wasn’t living by what the Declaration of Independence proclaimed about equality.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Dr. King had a different proclamation.

“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,” he said.

We’ll recall those words as we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. There will be speeches, proclamations, and resolutions. But there also should be a recognition that nearly 54 years after his death, the quest for the change he sought to bring is ongoing.


Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Alex

    January 16, 2022 at 8:04 pm

    It’s a slow process when people who are terrified of change get threatened by improvement and moving forward as a nation, so preferring the familiar comforts of stagnation they’ll lie, cheat, and commit treason to keep us there.

  • Charles

    January 16, 2022 at 8:54 pm

    Henderson— you’re disgusting
    Do you actually believe we need your far left interpretation of MLK words.
    His words speak for themselves.
    You just don’t know when to shut your blowhole

    • Alex

      January 16, 2022 at 9:22 pm

      Did you have a point, or are you this sweet all the time?

  • ScienceBLVR

    January 17, 2022 at 6:21 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful prose, Joe. I think King would be sad to see we have not come that far in many areas. And we have added to the list of disenfranchised groups, Muslims, migrants, LGBTQ, among others and under Trump grown the authoritarian nut jobs. Less Klan, more Proud Boys, Oath keepers, and other conspiracy theory crazies. Some bright spots, though- those racists who killed Armoud did get life- but still felt empowered to hunt him down and shoot him in broad daylight because of the color of his skin. It certainly wasn’t because of the content of his character.

  • Andrew Finn

    January 18, 2022 at 11:06 am

    Unfortunately things have not changed that much. With the help of the media – they probably never will.

Comments are closed.


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