Martin Luther King Jr.’s death at the young age of 39, in a murder committed more than 50 years ago by a penny-ante racist, did not end his influence in changing the way we live in America. King came of age just shy of a century after the end of slavery. He lived and died at a time when our country was once again pondering how freedom and opportunity are different depending on the color of your skin.
History is never just about the past; we carry our history with us. Injustices that happened years, decades, and centuries ago continue to shape the lives people lead today. And that means addressing the wrongs of the past is more than a symbolic gesture. It is a necessary part of building the just society we aspire to.
That is why it is important to seize the opportunity we have to become the first government in the nation to return a piece of land seized from Black property owners simply because of the color of their skin.
By 1860, 4 million Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States. Despite their chains, those Americans built this country — and under horrifying conditions.
It took more than 200 years of bondage, beginning in 1619, for the United States to finally abolish slavery in 1865. But to break chains that old and pervasive required more than a single act. It required transformative social and economic change.