It was an inspiring moment: 200,000 people had assembled at the statue of the Great Emancipator to call for racial and economic justice. Many of them, including speakers such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, were battered veterans of a hard and sometimes deadly struggle.
But they were veterans of a struggle that should never have been necessary. Think about what was happening in this nation 50 years ago, when the grandparents of today’s college freshmen were themselves just entering adulthood. Men and women were being beaten for trying to buy a Coke at a lunch counter; they were being killed for trying to vote. It was a national disgrace. MLK said as much in the first part of his famous “Dream” speech, where he accused the nation of moral bankruptcy for failing to pay the “promissory note” of equal justice.
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Dorn is a professor of public policy at the University of Texas at Austin.