On this day we take a few moments — or a couple of hours — to celebrate the life and message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a great American who fought peacefully for racial equality and justice during the turbulent 1950s and ’60s and left a legacy that provides hope to people around the world today. Coming of age in an American landscape of institutionalized racial segregation and prejudice, King worked thoughtfully, tirelessly and courageously to change life for the better for millions of Americans.
In 1955, in one of his first public acts of nonviolent demonstration, King led a bus boycott that lasted 382 days and led to a Supreme Court decision that declared segregation on buses to be unconstitutional. Between 1957 and 1968, he traveled more than 6 million miles, wrote five books and spoke more than 2,500 times. He led a massive protest in Birmingham, Ala., that inspired his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail;” he organized drives in Alabama for the registration of African-Americans as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his unforgettable address, “I Have a Dream.”
In reaction to his activism, he was arrested and assaulted. His home was bombed. He was subject to accusations, incriminations and all kind of personal abuse. But he suffered the abuse patiently, never calling for violence in return.
He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Many point to society today and say that life has improved for those King championed. This is true in many respects. But racial disparities still exist, marring the American promise. And racism still raises its ugly head in our public discourse and even in the halls of government.
It can and must be called out.
King was not just concerned about racial equality, but also about poverty, war and violence. A Southern Baptist preacher, he insisted that those of all faiths had something meaningful to contribute to building a just society.
King was not perfect; he had human failings. Some emphasize those failings to undermine his person as well as his message. That does him an injustice.
His message has also at times been misappropriated and even commercialized. That trivializes what he had to teach.
But his true message of peace, hope, unity, fellowship and forgiveness still rings out in his writings, in recordings of his speeches and in many events that will be held today, including volunteer opportunities — “a day on, not a day off.”
Take a few moments — or a couple of hours — to honor Martin Luther King Jr.