Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.
A reporter asked a young boy wearing a T-shirt adorned with the images of President...

In a few days, on January 15, the nation will begin observing the anniversary of Dr. King's birthday. Were his life not brutally extinguished in 1968, he would be 80 years old. Some believe he had a premonition that he wasn't going to live to see a day like today when the world is getting ready to celebrate the inauguration of the first Black president of the United States. And he must have known the trail he had blazed, the sacrifices he had made, though he tended, in his self-effacing way, to turn the attention from him and on the issues he championed.

If he were alive, as he did when he walked among us, he would be concerned about the terrible state of our economy, and if the rich are crying the blues, he would intuitively know the poor are facing utter despair. He would be appalled at the turmoil and death in the Middle East, with a special interest in the innocent victims of the conflict.

Like Obama, much has been made of Dr. King the dreamer. But that's to suggest that his life stopped after the March on Washington in 1963. Those unwilling to examine his days beyond the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement miss a more radicalized King, one uncompromisingly outraged by the then-ongoing war in Vietnam, choosing to dwell on his speech in Washington rather than his anti-war speech a year before his assassination at Riverside Church. They prefer the King in Selma rather than King in Chicago, Los Angeles and finally in Memphis, where the working poor summoned his spirit.

Dr. King's selflessness was one of his most redeeming traits. And he would have us never forget those nameless freedom fighters who only recently have begun to get their due recognition--Lamar Smith, who was gunned down by white racists in 1955 in Brookhaven, Mississippi, the voter registration forms still clutched in his hands, and the Rev. George Lee, a courageous activist, who was also the victim of arch-segregationists the same year not too far from where Smith was slain. Recently, Rev. James Bevel joined the ancestors. To be sure, he was an imperfect human being, but who among us can make a claim of perfection? Dr. King himself was heir to human foibles. If only we could reverse Shakespeare's words about the "evil that men do lives after them, the good is often interred in their bones. "Rev. Bevel will probably, unfortunately, be remembered for his evil deeds rather than by the significant contributions he made to the liberation struggle in this country. And some are even singling out Dr. King's missteps, focusing on his failings rather than his successes.

Dr. King would also be mindful of those who have sought the Oval Office before Obama, most notably Shirley Chisholm and the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. If Obama finds it difficult to mention Dr. King's name, there's no way to expect he will give too much time and attention to those of his immediate predecessors in the quest for the White House.

But we must learn to speak Dr. King's name; not only to speak it, but to explain who he was and what he did to bring about the first "change" in America. What's in a name? Everything, particularly when it is one of America's most cherished and revered names. Even Bill Clinton, in his second inaugural address, mentioned Dr. King by name when he said: "Thirty-four years ago, the man whose life we celebrate today spoke to us down there, at the other end of this mall, in words that moved the conscience of a nation. Like a prophet of old, he told of his dream that one day America would rise up and treat all its citizens as equals before the law and in the heart. Martin Luther King's dream was the American dream. His quest is our quest: the ceaseless striving to live out our true creed. Our history has been built on such dreams and labors."

Maybe, just maybe, President Obama will get it right during his inaugural address. Now that would truly be audacious and change.