Gen Xers grew up in a world that fed them evidence of a growing equality and a preponderance of black leaders and stars they embraced. Michael Jackson became the world’s biggest recording artist. Eddie Murphy became the biggest star in Hollywood. Bill Cosby had the best-rated show on television. Michael Jordan became the biggest star in the sports world. Reverend Jesse Jackson ran for president twice. Oprah began constructing a TV empire. Spike Lee became a major Hollywood filmmaker. And Prince became a megastar.

Hanging over all this was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose shadow loomed over the 1980s as the ultimate example of a black American who whites and blacks both could and should idolize (as opposed to Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and Minister Louis Farrakhan, who were idolized by many blacks and had no crossover appeal). In 1986, as Gen X was growing up, the King holiday…

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