I was reading a story about a couple who were reflecting on the meaning of Martin Luther King Day. They were in their early 40s and late 30s and were talking about passing along King's principles to their children.
Then it struck me: They had not been born when King was assassinated in 1968. I did the math. It was 44 years ago this April that King was shot down on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tenn. King was 39. He has been dead longer than he had been alive.
Two generations have passed since the assassination. Only those of us near 60 or older can remember King as a controversial figure on the evening news. Only those of us of that age can remember the segregation laws, the societal prejudices and the quiet indignities that ignited the protests that motivated King's remarkable leadership, his personal bravery and his inspiring rhetoric. My own children, born in the decade following King's martyrdom, grew up in a society where integrated schools, restaurants, jobs and hotels were as normal as sunsets. They could not fathom a society that created separate school systems for black and whites or that refused service to customers because of their race.
King's life, and the lives of many others like him, transformed our society and made America better. Forty-four years after his untimely death, as we celebrate King's legacy, it's hard, even for those who lived through it, to explain the injustices he set about to change.