Written By Sherwood Kohn


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in January (He was born on January 15, but the event is celebrated on January 16.) reminds us of the benefits of virtuously applied power.

The Rev. Dr. King dedicated his life to the equality and self-respect of African-Americans, and lost it in the pursuit of the concept.

In many ways, he was a powerful man, but one who rejected the corrupting influence of power.

“I am not interested in power for power’s sake,” he said, “but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.”

Dr. King used his power to help raise the nation from a quagmire of bigotry. The most obvious result: President Barack Obama.

But we are not free of racism yet. Nor have we shed the shackles of narrow-mindedness. There is plenty of evidence that a significant segment of the U.S. population is mired in prejudice of one kind or another.

Education, as Dr. King knew, is much of the answer. But that is not all.

The spirit of altruism: A devotion to the greater good of the nation is the other part. That entails a rejection of greed and self-aggrandizement, the use of power to improve society; a commitment to the well-being of others – those are the virtues that Dr. King embraced.

“Civil rights” was an easy label for what Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to achieve. But his goals were broader and deeper. He intended to change American society for the better, and to the extent that he raised the consciousness of a nation, he succeeded.

It was a herculean task, and he knew it. Nevertheless, he persevered. And like Moses, he saw the Promised Land, but never set foot in it.

The dedication of a statue of Dr. King on the National Mall on October 16 not only ensures the permanence of his presence at the site of one of his most inspiring speeches, it brings a kind of closure to the memory of one of our country’s giants, a man who inspired a generation to dedicate itself, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, to “the better angels of our nature.”