Celebrate it the way he would have intended: Go help somebody. Be of service.
As the hourglass of time buries events and people deeper in the sands of history, it's more important than ever to look back at the era King was part of and revisit what he tried to accomplish.
Politicians and others who like to compare Iraq to Vietnam might say the times are similar, but they're really not. We fought the Vietnam War, auspiciously, to stop the spread of communism. We're fighting the way in Iraq for ... well, that depends on when you ask.
The rationale most of us accept, the one that makes more sense and is probably closest to the truth, is it is a campaign in the War on Terrorism. This is where comparisons of the different eras break down a little bit.
Following World War II, two ambitious political journeys began, often clashing in the process: the growth of communism and the spread of democracy. This clash of ideals formed the foundation of the Cold War and the proxy military exchanges such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War that resulted.
Back home, there was distrust of communists and "communist sympathizers" in our own country, but our awareness of them had less immediacy than our awareness of terrorists; after all, the history of our dealings with communists offers nothing comparable to 9/11. We weren't worried about communists hijacking our airplanes and flying them into skyscrapers. Communists weren't operating under a "religious mandate" to kill Americans.
In short, we didn't fear them the way we fear terrorists.
Add to this a domestic landscape embroiled in internal conflicts less nebulous than red-versus-blue states. Those were the days when a "Whites Only" sign in a laundromat wasn't exactly referring to what types of clothing could be run through the washers. War opponents who dared express their opinions in a public, organized manner were also handled with brass knuckles, while the kid gloves were reserved for corporations who made products supporting the war effort.
These days, "Farenheit 9/11" and ridiculous calls for infinite recounts in Ohio is about as bad as its gotten on the domestic front. Red staters aren't turning fire hoses and police dogs on blue staters. The bulk of our rage is still turned outward, toward the terrorists.
Because of this, our domestic perils are largely sins of ommission, rather than sins of commission. We don't hate or distrust our neighbor. We can't, because we don't even know him.
Our attention is focused outward, on the enemy out there.
And in doing so, we've become enemies to ourselves and strangers to each other.
Too often, we hold up great men and women of the past and use them to compare with our leaders of today and, when today's leaders come up short, we wonder when, oh, when will we see such greatness again.
To do so misses King's point entirely.
His ultimate exhortation was not to seek heroes, but to become heroes.
Brad House can be reached at email@example.com.