Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr speaking in a Nashville church in the 1960s.

By Rosetta Miller-Perry

If he had not been struck down by a racist assassin, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be 94 this year, born January 15, 1929. But as the nation begins its annual celebration of his birthday which became a national holiday in 1993, the Tennessee Tribune feels it is more than appropriate to ask this simple question: what would Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. think if he were alive today?

I think he’d be happy at the incremental progress that Black Americans have made in the decades since his death. There are more Black politicians in positions of power than ever before, more Black college graduates and professionals. African Americans are no longer rare figures on television or in the media. Every area of national activity either has active Black participation or Blacks breaking new ground by their presence:

• First African-American woman and first woman to be the police commissioner of the New York Police Department: Keechant Sewell

• First African-American woman to appear on U.S. currency (a quarter): Maya Angelou

• First African-American woman nominated, confirmed to, and sworn into the Supreme Court of the United States: Ketanji Brown Jackson

• First African-American represented in the National Statuary Hall Collection: Mary McLeod Bethune

• First African-American Marine Corps four-star general: Michael Langley

• First African-American governor-elect of the U.S. state of Maryland: Wes Moore.

• First African-American Attorney General-elect of the U.S. state of Maryland: Anthony Brown

• First African-American lawmaker to lead a party in Congress: Hakeem Jeffries

But Dr. King wasn’t satisfied with just some degree of individual progress during his lifetime, and he wouldn’t be satisfied with it now. He wanted deep, fundamental, radical change in this nation. He sought for America to live up to its overseas image as a land of freedom and opportunity for everyone and a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.  

Dr. King   saw poverty as a threat to social justice, and he would be appalled that in the 21st century only one percent of the nation’s population controls so much of its wealth.

The fact that families are homeless, that corporations can get away with paying no taxes while folks suffer, that so many people are still without proper medical care even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and that there is a Supreme Court which has two Black members but still looks ready to strike down affirmative action, these are all things that would deeply trouble and distress him.

But when he turned his eyes toward Tennessee and viewed what has been done legislatively, he would be perhaps most distressed. A group of racist Republican lawmakers have effectively stripped the state’s capital of representation. A Republican super majority in both houses approved gerrymandering that has resulted in the dream of Mississippi’s White Citizens Council: a legal means of restricting and severely limiting the power of Black and poor people specifically and the whole of Nashville generally.

Dr. King couldn’t help but be upset at seeing so many people singing his praises in Tennessee and including more than 30 streets across the state bearing his name, yet such a reprehensible reality existing legislatively. It is the closest thing to taxation without representation while legal  it is  disgraceful.  

Yes, things are marginally better since Dr. King’s death, and he would certainly acknowledge the milestones and be happy about them. But anyone who truly understands the message and the movement he would let it be known   that it was not about improving the lot of a few folks and making it easier for a segment of the Black populace to advance. It was about expanding opportunities and   making America a just and equal society for everyone, as well as eradicating bigotry and hatred from America’s system.

Those things have not yet happened, and if Dr. King were alive, he’d be  proclaiming that in as loud a voice as he could from anywhere,  he could. Those of us who remain committed to upholding his legacy must do the same, and never give up his fight, no matter how difficult it seems, or what obstacles those racist opposed to progress and justice erect in opposition.