Martin Luther King Jr. Day offers Americans time to reflect and measure our progress toward building a civil society. An honest examination of history makes it clear that the law has not been able to cleanse our nation of racism.
The 15th Amendment has been in place for more than a century. The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act has been on the books for over a half century.
Yet just this month, the U.S. House of Representatives felt compelled to pass a formal resolution that “once again rejects White nationalism and White supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”
While our founding document states that all men are created equal, clearly not all Americans have bought into that article of faith.
There is a limit to what laws can accomplish. While they instruct as to what we can and cannot do, laws are incapable of guiding our hearts to love our neighbor and our minds to process thoughtful and appropriate communication with our fellow man.
In December 1964, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the Civil Rights Act the beginning of “a second emancipation.” Forty-five years on, there’s still much emancipating to be done.
Throughout that period, conservative leaders have echoed Dr. King’s call to end racial insanity and the silent hate that continues to divides us. In response to incidents of bigotry and violence, President Ronald Reagan delivered a stern message to “those individuals who persist in such hateful behavior. “You are the ones who are out of step with our society,” he said. “You are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America. And this country, because of what it stands for, will not stand for your conduct.”
[Kay Coles James is president of The Heritage Foundation. James formerly served as director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and as Virginia's secretary of health and human resources.]