The accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. created an avenue for Barack Obama to step into the presidency, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson told a crowd of college students and community members Wednesday night.
Dyson, a radio talk show host, author, college professor and minister dubbed the "superstar professor" by the Washington Post, was the keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner at the Show Me Center.
The effect of King's death on America's future, the topic of Dyson's latest book, served as the focus for his nearly hourlong speech before about 700 people.
The theme of Wednesday's dinner was "Martin Luther King Jr., the man, the dream, the impact," a topic on which Dyson has written several bestselling books, the most recent titled "April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King's Death and How it Changed America."
Though King was far from flawless, Dyson said, he challenged America to live up to its own ideals, something the majority of people had not been ready to hear at the time.
"As a man he was capable of understanding the fear that gripped black hearts," Dyson said, pointing out that people feared jail time, losing their jobs or even death for joining such a challenge in the cultural climate of the time.
Active in the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, Dyson called the election the "litmus test of American fulfillment of its democratic pledge."
Without King, Obama wouldn't be who he is today, Dyson said.
Obama's presidential victory has given black Americans a sense of ownership and investment in the nation, a "sense of purchase in the American dream" that didn't exist previously, Dyson said in a news conference before the celebration dinner.
Dyson has made a number of national media appearances, including "Nightline," "The O'Reilly Factor" and "The Today Show."
In 2006, he authored the first major book exploring racial fallout from Hurricane Katrina with "Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster."
Dyson has written books ranging from biographies separating fact from myth behind figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to books such as "Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur."