It’s clear that Bloomington takes very seriously the idea that MLK Day is “a day on—not a day off.” For over two decades, you’ve held this ceremony as a way of symbolizing your commitment to the principles for which Dr. King lived and died. And for many years, many of you impressively have spent this day in service, sharing your time and talents helping those in need and improving your community, just as Dr. King so often exhorted us to do.
It is so important that we make Martin Luther King Day a living holiday—a day not only to commemorate where we’ve been in the past, but also to reflect upon where we are headed in the present.
When Dr. King delivered his iconic address at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 100 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, our nation was at a pivotal moment.
The months leading up to the March were filled with unrest across the country. Just two months earlier that summer, civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi and Governor George Wallace literally stood in the doorway to federal authorities as they tried to allow Black students to enter to the University of Alabama. Uprisings and rebellions engulfed cities across the nation.
And as he painted an aspirational vision for this country using that powerful refrain, “I Have A Dream”, Dr. King had another searing but much less sanguine message. He said of that moment “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” He wanted to remind America of the fierce urgency of rooting out racial injustice. That left unaddressed or left to inertia, racism would destroy the foundations of our democracy. In fact, he said “[i]t would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
We are facing a similar urgency today. We are, yet again, at a pivotal moment in our young nation’s history. In 2019, as we enter what many consider the 400th year since the early arrival of enslaved Africans on these shores, we are witnessing a release and resurgence of open racial hostility and division that we have not seen in decades. Incivility and flagrant disregard of custom, norms and the rule of law have infected our democratic structures and our social sensibilities. And, to be honest, this country has been caught flat-footed. Too many Americans mistakenly thought or were irresponsibly taught that Dr. King had fully delivered us evil.
Read the full speech here.