Regardless of his successes or failures as president, Barack Obama, who’s second inauguration takes place Monday, will be remembered for having been the first black man to occupy the White House. His election in 2008 remains an extraordinary accomplishment — for him and for the United States.
Whether by coincidence or intent, his inauguration takes place on the same day Americans honor the memory of another black man, someone who never served in elected office but whose contributions to the cause of human rights and equality were such that they brought nearer the day that becoming president was a realistic dream for a black American.
That individual, of course, was Martin Luther King Jr. A preacher, he became the face and a martyr of America’s civil rights movement. He argued not just for racial equality but also for equality of opportunity — educational and economic — for all citizens regardless of their color. No less important, he preached service to others and nonviolence.
His success, through his marvelous oratory and his peaceful marches and other actions, was effective enough that it drove elected leaders in Washington as well as some states to change their laws and caused millions of Americans to change the way they looked at people different from them.
His assassination in 1968 offered proof enough that not all Americans were changed. Sadly, too many even today have yet to emerge from the ignorance that breeds bigotry. Progress has not been smooth, but it is occurring, and with education and good will, it will continue. It must.
As is appropriate, the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday has become associated with community service — of voluntary citizen action. The King holiday is called “a day on, not a day off.” That will be the case again Monday in Manhattan.
We won’t fault residents who do take the day off, but we encourage people who have the day off to spend some of it improving this community. According to HandsOn Kansas State, which has partnered for a number of years with Manhattan’s MLK Committee, volunteers are sought to work with organizations such as the Ogden Friendship House of Hope, the Manhattan Arts Center, the American Red Cross, the Beach Art Museum and Habitat for Humanity’s Restore. Individuals can sign up at Manhattan Town Center beginning at 9 a.m. Monday.
A few hours of service isn’t the only way to honor the Rev. King’s memory; numerous activities are scheduled in the coming days. Yet such service, which can extend well past Monday, can foster relationships with other people of good will while making Manhattan a better place to live.