Four hundred years ago this summer, colonial America's first representative assembly was convened in Jamestown, Virginia. The event launched a noble tradition that grew to become America's founding ideals of freedom, equality and self-governance.
However, that noble beginning was challenged right from the start. Just a few weeks after the legislators gathered, the first enslaved people were brought to Jamestown and then sold. That was the start of a shameful tradition that grew to embrace centuries of slavery and legalized racism against black Americans.
These two strands of our history — one positive and one negative — have competed and interacted to define America ever since.
The competition led to a Civil War that nearly tore the nation apart. Yet, while our nation survived the war, the underlying tension between the competing strands of our history continued.
A century after that war, the United States was blessed when a Baptist preacher — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — challenged our nation to live up to its noble ideals. He eloquently cited the promises made in our nation's founding document and claimed them for all Americans, not just white Americans. Because he forced Americans to face the conflict between the competing strands of our history, King lost his life. But the progress he launched made the U.S. a better nation.