Did Anyone Notice Martin Luther King Day?

Martin Luther King Day seems to have passed with even less than a whisper, which given today’s political culture is unsurprising. It’s difficult to envision a wider gulf between the principles that animated King and the civil rights movement, and the Beltway bandits of 2006. And not just King. Who today speaks, as John F. Kennedy did in June of 1963, of the pressing need for reform? Kennedy described civil rights as “a moral issue...as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution,” he declared. What good is freedom, that president wondered, if an American citizen, whatever the color of his skin, “cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public; if he cannot send his children to the best public schools available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him?”

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Means of Ascent

Some presidents shape their times more than others. The 1830s are known as the Age of Jackson, but few people think of the 1920s as the Age of Harding. The 1960s and 1970s were too dynamic and cacophonous to be defined by any one person, but Lance Morrow suggests that they were marked by three men who occupied the Oval Office during these years: John F. Kennedy, whose sudden death transformed him into an icon of progress and optimism; Lyndon B. Johnson, who managed to represent both the best of us with his commitment to civil rights and the worst of us with his mismanagement of the war in Vietnam; and Richard M. Nixon, whose fateful involvement with the Watergate break-in ended the proverbial innocence of America.

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The Turning Point for a Reluctant White House

When many people think about the March on Washington 40 years ago this week, and the civil rights movement in general, the images that remain strongest are of Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of grass-roots activists who took to the streets, organized protests and fought county by county in the South to force change.

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