Even among important historical figures, rarely can it be said a person changed the world.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. changed the world.
He was assassinated April 4, 1968, at a Memphis hotel.
He was a man of peace and his poignant messages on civil rights, coupled with his strong leadership of a national movement earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are the direct result of the civil rights movement, for which King carried the banner.
MLK was born in 1929 in Atlanta, the son of a Baptist minister. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 and in 1955 received a Ph.D. in Theology from Boston University. He served as assistant pastor of his father’s church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Throughout the nation, King led demonstrations, marches, protests, sit-ins and boycotts. Though jailed several times for his efforts, his demonstrations were always peaceful.
The King legacy is one of decency and morality.
His message crossed all racial, ethnic, national and religious boundaries.
Unlike most of us, King worked each day of his life to turn his dream into reality.
His dream was consistent with the American dream. It was a dream of freedom.
As a nation, we are closer to the fulfillment of that dream than we would have ever been without him.
However, we should be honest enough to admit that though we are farther down the path of freedom because of him, we have not arrived.
We are not yet free from prejudice?
We are not yet free from racism?
We are not yet free from bigotry?
We are not yet free of bias?
Everyone adamantly denies racism.
The denial does not make it any less a reality.
Dr. King exposed it in ways that had not done been before and in doing so incubated a national dialogue that served as a catalyst for sweeping changes in public policy and in the ways we view ourselves.
By raising public awareness, stimulating public debate and peacefully petitioning the government for a redress of grievances, he demonstrated what it means to be an American.
His work embodied the true meaning of the First Amendment.
His life’s work can only be kept alive when we dare to look deep within ourselves and admit our prejudices. It is only by being honest with ourselves that we can gain freedom from those oppressive chains.
In 1983 the U.S. Congress made his birthday, Jan. 15, a national holiday. Each year the third Monday in January is observed as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The nation’s leaders, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, black and white, voted to remember King’s legacy with a national day of observance not because he was a great African-American leader.
They did so because he was simply a great American.
The strides made in civil rights as the result of his efforts and the work of those who followed him are significant, but this week we should all consider just how far we still need to go to make our nation a place where all people are free at last.
People of all races, creeds and faiths took part in marches and celebrations of Dr. King’s life throughout the nation and here at home, as our community paid tribute to his legacy and expressed a commitment to continuing to fulfill the dream by the way they live their lives.
King would likely feel humbled by the outpouring of love Monday with parades, marches and memorial services.
His memory and legacy is even better honored by the outpouring of community volunteerism.
The greatest honor any of us could give him, however, is to search our hearts, admit our shortcomings and embrace our fellow man.
— Editor Jim Zachary