Yet as Americans take stock of the moment, the change that has swept across the country in the four decades since the onset of the civil rights movement is stunning and a testament to an inherent American goodness that King recognized and reinforced in his speeches and marches.
“We are far from achieving the perfection of Dr. King’s ‘Dream’ but that is no reason to ignore how far we have come,” writes Fox News contributor and Washington media veteran Juan Williams, who is black. “Even now, as we see shifting demographics seeding racial tension in some precincts, the country is still moving forward. The United States is a good country. This nation still labors to achieve the vision of Dr. King and President Reagan – the shining city on a hill.”
Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing Martin Luther King Day as a federal holiday in 1983, a moment when many people came to recognize King as a pivotal and aspirational figure for all of America, not just as a leader of blacks who championed their civil rights. King, whose words in the inspiriational “I have a dream” speech and the philosophical “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” lifted up a nation, was assassinated in Memphis,Tenn., on April 4, 1968.
Since then, America’s black middle class has become larger and more influential, especially in places like Atlanta, King's home town. America’s black middle class is now “the wealthiest, best-educated community of black people in the world,” writes Mr. Williams.
Yet, on this confluence of MLK Day and Obama’s inauguration, some Americans suggest that the president may be less the benefactor of King’s “dream” and more its modern-day standard-bearer.