In the week before his 79th birthday tomorrow, Martin Luther King was in the news again.
To make a point about the difference between rhetoric and reality, between Barack Obama and herself, Hillary Clinton said, "“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
That December, after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King went to the White House, where President Johnson told him he that, if he tried to pass a voting rights bill, Southerners in Congress would block other measures of his Great Society program, which would benefit his people in important ways.
"The President said nothing could be done," Dr. King recalled. "But we started a movement."
Three months later, in Selma, Alabama, on what became known as Bloody Sunday, police beat peaceful protesters on a bridge, and days afterward Lyndon Johnson made a speech to a joint session of Congress that Martin Luther King called "one of the most eloquent, unequivocal, and passionate pleas for human rights ever made by a President of the United States."
"Our struggle in Selma had brought the whole issue of the right to vote to the attention of the nation," King said. "Selma brought us a voting bill...We had a federal law which could be used, and use it we would. Where it fell short, we had our tradition of struggle and the method of nonviolent direct action, and these too we would use."
On his birthday tomorrow, Americans will not have to choose between Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson in remembering that achievement. Both played their parts, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are playing theirs in another historic turning point in American life. When voters cast their ballots for either of them, they will be making statements as powerful as Dr. King and President Johnson did back then.