To me, Dr. King's legacy is the inspirational way he spurred change through non-violent means. That's a fundamental principle of America and a key liberty that we must maintain. Obviously, racism still exists in our society, but the protests and efforts of Dr. King led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which was the first real effort to break down some do the institutional racial barriers.
It takes a strong leader to harness forces for change without having it lead to violence. I've often felt that the Palestinians would have a much better chance to pressure Israel for a permanent homeland if they had a leader like Dr. King who could lead them in non-violent protests. The Israelis would be less threatened and international pressure to solve the problem would really build. And, many fewer lives would be lost.
I found it ironic today when I read about the plan for a 'designated protest area' in Washington, DC. On a day when we should be honoring how Dr. King had the patience and determination to create change within our system, we are also considering putting protesters in a convenient compartment that doesn't cause us too much trouble. This is a bad idea, no matter what the protesters are fighting for. Washington, DC needs to be a place where those who aren't happy can show their displeasure. The residents and municipal works should be proud to be inconvenienced in the name of our freedom.
For more on inconveniences that occur for Washington, DC residents, check out this video from the Daily Show last week.