The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 89 today. It’s striking to think that if he hadn’t been killed 50 years ago, he might still be alive today. Would the civil rights movement have progressed differently if he had been part of it for the past half century? King was already losing influence when he was assassinated, and there’s no telling how he would have addressed that; how he would have evolved; or what influence he would have maintained. Would he have prevented the movement from turning to violence? Would that have lowered the temperature of the white backlash? Would we be further along the moral arc of the universe than we are?

I have to imagine he would have made a difference. At the same time, racial hatred is so deeply embedded in the souls of so many whites that it’s unlikely anything—or anybody—could have turned it aside by more than a few hairs. This has always been obvious, but the past year has made it even more obvious than ever. We have so far yet to go.

This picture may look like it’s from deep in the Amazon jungle, but it was actually taken at the Sand Canyon Wash, a smallish wildlife preserve near UC Irvine. The cross belongs to a Methodist church across the street.

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