Today we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and his epic struggle to make America live up to one its founding First Principles - equality. The Declaration of Independence is rooted in the self-evident truth that "all men are created equal." Of course, at the time of the Founding - and more many generations thereafter - that commitment was honored in the breach when it came to African Americans.
America, however, had committed itself to the principle of equality, and the struggle for racial equality began even before the colonies declared independence. That struggle continued through the ante-bellum period, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Progressive Age, WWII, and the civil rights era.
King was an indispensable leader for racial equality. At Grosse Pointe High School in the Detroit area, on March 14, 1968 (just three weeks before he was assassinated) he delivered "The Other America" speech. Those remarks called upon the nation's "sacred heritage" to advocate for racial equality:
We are going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and
the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. . . . .
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a
beautiful symphony of brotherhood....
At that heart of that sacred heritage was the belief that God had endowed all persons with unalienable rights, and that everyone was equal before Him. That clarion call eventually lead to the passage of the many civil rights era reforms that have brought a greater realization of the First Principle of equality.
We are not done with that struggle, but we have Martin Luther King, Jr. to thank for moving us significantly forward.