Today is the Federal holiday celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King. My law office is closed today, so I have time to write this post.
As I grow older, it’s interesting to see how perceptions of historic figures changes. In my childhood, MLK was an American hero of recent vintage. To those who grew up in the South (or even its suburban edge) in the early 1970′s, the story of civil rights in the U.S. was still fresh, still raw and still open to interpretation.
My own mother had attended a segregated high school in Northern Virginia in the late 1950s. In Fairfax City, we still had neighborhoods that were divided by color. In fact, when my father first ran for City Council in 1972, one of his big issues was bringing indoor plumbing to all City residents — a campaign pledge to the historically black neighborhood on School Street which did not yet have water or sewer lines. That was then.
This is now. The old School Street neighborhood, the ancestral home of blues legend John Jackson, is now a dignified cluster of cathedral-ceiling luxury homes. The pine woods have been cleared away and there are no more cars parked in front yards. I’m not complaining — the old residents wanted to sell and I hope they made a bundle — but it’s a fact that the community has been changed forever.
In the same way, the legacy of MLK has subtly changed over the past generation. He is no longer a voice that is unique to the African-American experience, because so many others claim it. It is a fact that our nation has been diversifying at a dizzying rate. New and different strains of the American experience are evolving every day. The old Southern model of “black and white” has been superseded by a new dynamic, especially in northern Virginia.
To those who enter this country, as well as those of us born here, the legacy of MLK is the principle that all Americans deserve a chance to succeed — no matter your background.
It’s a great message for our community, our state and our nation.