It has been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to let freedom ring across the nation.
August 28, 1963 will be remembered as a turning point in the 20th century civil rights movement when Dr. King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. As we look back and pay our respects to a great leader in United States history, it's just as important to see how this dream has come to fruition in the present day.
To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, people must recognize the struggle for human rights and equal treatment by society and under the law.
Dr. King led the African-American struggle for civil rights. He spoke of living in a day when people, "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Yet, when he spoke in front of 200,000 supporters, he paved the way for the equality of all human beings.
"As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied..."
Immigration, whether legal or not, remains a large issue in civil rights. Paths to immigration have been opened with government actions such as the DREAM Act, where education can lead to citizenship. However, acts that may be oppressive in nature, such as Arizona's S.B. 1070, are the law in a few states.
The contentious bill gives law enforcement the discretion to inquire about citizenship if they believe there is reasonable cause to do so. Some have argued that this justifies racial profiling.
Regardless of one's stance on same-sex marriage, the movement is progressing. In the 2012 elections, Maryland, Maine, and Washington passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage.
However, injustices continue where homosexuality is less accepted and tolerated. The LGBT community still faces bullying and discrimination in places where their voices go unheard.
Unlawful detention and inhuman conditions at Guantanamo Bay continue to be cases for human rights activists. President Obama re-signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) earlier this month. The ACLU has come out saying, "this has jeopardized [Obama's] ability to close Guantanamo during his presidency."
Some may be hesitant to draw the comparisons of present day issues to the injustices of the 1960s. Nonetheless, these are the human rights issues that are happening today. The fact that struggles, as a whole, are less violent may be a sign that the fight for human rights in the United States is more civilized.
Activism and human rights movements are continuing the legacy of civil disobedience. Influenced by Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King made clear 50 years ago that it is imperative that change must be brought about in such a way:
"We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."
The United States has moved away from the discrimination of the 1960s. The country elected its first black president, twice. This does not mean that racism is washed from the country. It does not mean that everything President Obama does is agreeable. It does mean that Dr. King's dream has seen progress.
Some people are skeptical about the country's outlook and speak of elected officials with disdain. However, it's important that when the time comes, we recognize that leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. have reshaped our country for the better. If we plan to make future changes, we should follow their lead of effective, yet civilized actions.