There’s an image of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that’s seared into my mind. Eyes inviting and innocent, face relaxed, the casually dressed Dr. King reminds me of a cousin at a card party — he looks so young. When Dr. King elucidated his dream at the March on Washington in 1963, he was 34 — younger than most Americans now, given the national median age of 38.
Despite his youth, or perhaps because of it, Dr. King understood the long view of history. He could not have foreseen a crowd brandishing guns and ransacking the Capitol, abetted by a failed president and right-wing digital media networks peddling debunked conspiracy theories. But he might have foreseen the Senate election victories of two youthful Southerners, Jon Ossoff, 33, and Raphael Warnock, 51, the latter a charismatic preacher and a successor to his pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Dr. King was a mobilizer of voters as much as he was an orator. To put voting rights at the forefront of the country’s consciousness, Dr. King helped launch a voter-registration drive in Selma, Ala., in early 1965. In many marches, over many weeks, Dr. King accompanied hundreds of Selma’s Black residents to the county courthouse. During one voter registration trip, he and 250 demonstrators were hauled to jail by the segregationist sheriff. That very day, county officers arrested some 500 schoolchildren who were protesting discrimination.
When a 26-year-old Black civil rights activist, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was fatally shot during a march in nearby Marion, Ala., Dr. King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized a voting-rights march from Selma to the state Capitol in Montgomery. The hundreds of demonstrators, including Hosea Williams, 39, and John Lewis, 25, chairman of the S.N.C.C., were stopped as they left Selma, at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Alabama state troopers and local vigilantes attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas. Alongside others badly injured, Mr. Lewis (a future U.S. congressman) suffered a fractured skull during “Bloody Sunday.”