Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

As the United States marks the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the civil rights revolution he helped spur is in peril. The progress African Americans forged has stalled. Will the United States once more turn its back on civil rights?

It has happened before. The first Reconstruction began with the Civil War and ended with the passage of the civil rights amendments ending slavery and guaranteeing equal protection under the law. Newly freed slaves pushed to exercise their rights. They won local elections and served on juries. They helped create what were the first public school systems in the South.

The reaction was brutal. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized African Americans across the South. Democrats became the party of the Confederacy. Barely 15 years later, Reconstruction was abandoned. In the Compromise of 1877, Republicans got Democratic support for ratifying the election of Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency in exchange for removing federal troops from the South, betraying the newly freed African Americans. As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “The slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun; and then moved back again towards slavery.”

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.