By Dr. Ben Carson
Every January, MLK Day offers Americans the opportunity to step back and reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the progress he made in the fight for civil rights. Over the course of his life, Dr. King gave over 2,500 speeches, and many of his immortal words have become so etched in our national story that millions of Americans can cite them by heart.
Of course, Dr. King’s most famous message was his “I Have a Dream Speech,” delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and heard around the nation. In this address, he famously called on our country to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Today, he is memorialized just minutes away from the steps where he delivered those wise words.
The more one engages with Dr. King’s writings, the more one realizes that he is not the man the modern left would have you believe today. He didn’t think that our country was irredeemably stained by racism, or our society was based on prejudice. Instead, even in the darkest days of the Civil Rights movement Dr. King advocated for the fulfillment — rather than the rejection — of America’s founding promise.
Indeed, you can find this same embrace of the Western philosophical tradition in Dr. King’s famed Letter from a Birmingham jail. In this work he cites St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas to provide a philosophical basis for law itself. He cites Thomas Jefferson and his elucidation of what he called those “majestic words of the Declaration of Independence,” of that timeless self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” In this letter, Dr. King also bemoaned a toothless and ineffective Christianity, and a body of faithful who were reluctant to stand up for truth in the public square.
All of this stands in stark contrast to the narratives that are peddled by the left today. Modern progressivism tells us that we should not embrace, but reject this heritage and the very foundations upon which our civilization was built. Today’s progressives tell us that our past should be shunned, our forefathers scorned, and our history cast aside.
On days like today, it’s helpful to look back to the lessons of our forefathers and take what’s best from their beliefs. Dr. King’s words are rich with the classic rhythm of his verbal cadence, and he understood that moral law was more important than man’s law. Moral law, unlike manmade laws, does not and cannot shift based on the prevailing culture of the day. Moral law has a fixed point—if it is true today, it will be true tomorrow, and so too will it be true to the end of time. This is how Dr. King framed the struggle for civil rights, and that is why he grounded everything he did in the never changing truth that all men are created equal.
In Dr. King’s prolific writings and the public record of his actions, he never gave up on America. Even in the darkest days of the Civil Rights movement, as he advocated for equal rights and protested to ensure that black Americans were treated fairly, he always loved his country.
So too should we follow his example and turn back to the eternal truths that have guided our nation through the ups and downs of the past, because those same principles can guide us through the challenges we face today. It is not by rejecting our shared values, cultures, and beliefs that we can come together as one united people, but by embracing the promise of America that we all share as citizens, just as Dr. King did.
Dr. Ben Carson is the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.