EDITORIAL: Honoring King's legacy both locally, nationally

York Dispatch Editorial Board

It is more than fitting that the federal holiday commemorating the birthday of Civil Rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become a time of community service.

At heart, the American Baptist minister, community organizer and unflagging advocate for equal rights spent a lifetime in service: To his church, to oppressed Americans, and to the ideals on which the nation was founded.

Carrying on that work at the community level honors King’s vision as well as his legacy.

That’s what volunteers associated with the York’s Crispus Attucks Center are doing today as they hold their 37th annual MLK Day of Service. Volunteer projects were planned at the Bell Family Shelter, Lincoln Charter School, Martin Library, and other city locations.

York’s seventh annual MLK Sunday Supper, which was to have been held last night at the Lincoln Charter School, is another community-building initiative. The annual event has become a source for discussion, ideas and initiatives for local improvement.

Such traditions, locally and throughout the nation, commemorate King’s work by following his hands-on examples.

Volunteers work the "Duke Street Clean Sweep" during the Crispus Attucks 36th Annual MLK Day of Service Monday, Jan 15, 2018. After a breakfast at the center, volunteers worked at various locations around the city providing services during Martin Luther King Day. Bill Kalina photo

Through speeches, sermons, marches and mass demonstrations, King led a generation of Americans to finally face up to the profound inequality and injustice of discrimination, and inspired future generations to continue the ongoing work of ensuring equal rights for all.

That work is needed today more than ever at the national level, as entrenched political interests continue to enact new and insidious methods of quelling minority voices.

Consider resurgent efforts to restrict or suppress voting rights — a direct response to the Supreme Court’s stunningly ill-considered 2013 decision to strip key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. What would King, who stood mere feet from President Lyndon Johnson as he signed that landmark legislation in 1965, make of recent efforts in states including Pennsylvania to enact cumbersome new ID provisions, purge registration rolls, close minority-neighborhood polling stations and erect other roadblocks to the ballot box?

And what would King make of the resurgence — or, at any rate, persistence — of racial intolerance? The language may be less explicit, the sheets may have been replaced with pedestrian garb, but the hate-filled ideology of white nationalism and dog-whistle racism continues to pollute civil society. And as the recent ramblings of Rep. Steve King of Iowa demonstrate, such thinking, still, can be found anywhere.

All of which make King’s calls for racial equality no less relevant today than at the height of the Civil Rights movement.

Also still achingly relevant: King’s efforts and concern for the poorest among us. Recall, when he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in April 1968, King was in Memphis to aid in an ongoing strike by sanitation workers seeking to end low pay and dangerous working conditions.

Need and hunger continue to plague underserved communities throughout the nation. The Trump administration’s response is to seek new restrictions on federal food-aid programs for low-income recipients. That certainly won’t help. Neither does the ongoing partial government shutdown, which further threatens assistance for the tens of millions who rely on such aid.

So as the nation commemorates what would have been the 90th birthday of its leading Civil Rights figure, there remain challenges large and small, national and local.

Community leaders like organizers of York’s MLK Day of Service events pay admirable homage to King’s memory by tackling issues and needs in their own backyard. National leaders must do a better job of following suit.

Efforts to divide Americans, suppress their votes or threaten much-needed assistance for those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder do nothing to honor King’s legacy. In fact, just the opposite.