The Historical Present: Uses and Abuses of the Past

By Edwin M. Yoder | Go to book overview

Martin Luther King's Moment

ALTHOUGH DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING'S birthday every January is now a national observance, and his a luminous name, he must seem almost as remote to young people, black and white, as a pharaoh of ancient Egypt. Even vivid history evaporates from the popular memory very quickly these days. Without a sense of its historical dimension, however, the revolution that occurred in the standing of Dr. King's people between the end of World War II and his assassination in Memphis in 1968 must be deeply puzzling--as are the conditions that began to be redressed when the Supreme Court first moved against racial discrimination in railway coaches and graduate professional schools in the late 1940s.

Dramatic evidence of this amnesia, at least on the part of whites, emerged when the ex-professional football player O. J. Simpson was acquitted in Los Angeles in 1995 of murder of his former wife. Surveys suggested that a majority of Simpson's fellow black people approved of the verdict, but also that the black reaction mystified a majority of white people, who believed Simpson transpar-

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