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Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder says MLK leaves a legacy of achievement, but his work is far from done

Tim Shelley
Former U.S Attorney General Eric Holder, at podium, speaks to reporters in the Peoria Civic Center's Lexus Room ahead of his keynote address at the annual Peoria Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon.

For former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of a lifetime of achievements. But that doesn't mean his work is done.

Holder was the keynote speaker at Peoria's annual MLK Luncheon at the Civic Center.

"It's not enough just to remember his birthday and commit ourselves to a day of work. That's important. But what are we doing the other 364 days of the year? We need to commit ourselves to making his dream a reality. And we have within ourselves the capacity to do that, if we're willing to do the work," Holder said.

Some of that work includes bolstering voting rights, which the former attorney general calls "the prime civil rights struggle of our time." Holder said the nation is seeing a "real retreat" from the tenants of the Voting Rights of 1965 in the ten years since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that rolled back parts of the landmark law.

"Immediately after that you saw go into effect in states around the country unnecessary photo ID laws, the purging of voter rolls," he said. "You see, for instance, that it takes longer for people to vote in communities of color than it does in majority communities."

Holder said the filibuster ultimately stymied a Congressional attempt to expand and protect voting rights on the federal level. He said it's important to elect people who stand for voting rights not only at the federal level, but the state and local levels, too.

"We made a lot of progress in this nation," he said. "But with regard to voting rights, this nation is not nearly as far as we should be."

Holder said that may also involve expanding the Supreme Court. He said he's become an advocate of adding more justices to the court in recent years, especially after the decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade precedent legalizing abortion federally.

Holder said though he believes the nation has made progress since the civil rights movement, he argues it's time for more.

"Progress is not enough. It's time for us to get to the place where we get to accomplishments," he said.

Holder said the upcoming generation carries less racial baggage than his. He said he's optimistic they will accomplish more justice and fairness for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

"They have the capacity for the change that is necessary. So I hope I live to see it. But I'm pretty confident that in my kids' lives, we'll get to that place," he said.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.