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Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Legacy: Developing a Vision for Civil Rights in the Twenty-First Century

Recorded on January 15, 2009

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Allison Auditorium

Much has been written about the significance of the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.  The tears of joy on the faces of some of his supporters in Grant Park on election night are evidence that many Americans did not believe it was possible at this point in time (or perhaps ever) to elect an African American to the highest office in the land.  It is right to celebrate and commemorate the demise of a caustic myth: the myth of a large racist backlash that prevents blacks and other minorities from achieving their dreams.  But aside from the obvious significance of Obama's victory, it tells us very little about what the civil rights agenda should be today.  Indeed, candidate Obama himself spent very little time addressing this issue.  The same is true of John McCain. 

In 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., envisioned a day when his children would "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."  Has that day arrived?  If it has, what does that mean for the focus of the civil rights movement today?  U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Chairman, Gerald Reynolds, will trace America's progress in fulfilling the promise of the Reconstruction Amendments and other civil rights laws enacted after the Civil War by the time of Rev. King's struggles, his ability to expand upon and give moving expression to the efforts of earlier activists to increase liberty for blacks, and how the agenda of the civil rights movement in the 1950s-1970s changed America.  Most importantly, he will assess the current state of racial equality and outline a vision for civil rights in the twenty-first century that better connects Reverend King's dream with the needs and aspirations of Americans today.