“…Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about a thing. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…”
Martin Luther King 4/3/1968
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday established in 1986 to honor the memory and accomplishments of one of the greatest peace advocates and activists our country has ever known. His untimely death 44 years ago was a major blow to the Civil Rights Movement. Following his death rioting broke out in major cities across the country, rekindling fear and racial tension and severely jeopardized the great strides made by King.
The excerpt above is from King’s final speech given on the day before he was assassinated. Those who heard him speak that day noted an air of sorrow in his demeanor as he spoke about the gains of the civil rights movement and his sadness in not being there to see it through to conclusion, of not reaching the promised land of racial equality. King was said to have a premonition of his impending death. On several occasions during his life he’d told his associates that he would not live to see 40 years old. He was 39 when he was killed.
King was a remarkable man who began his college education at the age of 15. Like his father he went on to the seminary and became a Baptist minister. From the pulpit he spoke out about social injustice and the need for racial equality. It was there that he began his career as a civil rights activist organizing boycotts and other peaceful protests and developed his philosophy of “nonviolent resistance.”
In 1963 King organized a massive march on Washington. with more than 250,000 participants, including about 65,000 white supporters, it was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation’s capital, and one of the first to have extensive television coverage. They marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in what turned out to be not only a protest, but a communal celebration as well. The massive protest was both civil and peaceful. The event included musical performances by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, Speeches by the top civil rights leaders of the time, including King who gave his famous “I have a Dream, American Dream” speech. It was quite the event.
One year later King became the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize and was also the first Black American to be named Time Magazines Man of the Year. Incredible feat for a black man in the turbulent 1960’s. But was all of this enough to earn him a federal holiday? What do you think?
There are many who don’t think so. In fact his holiday was established by the government in 1986 but it wasn’t until 2000 that all fifty states adopted it. Some believe that King should be no more than a footnote in Civil Rights history, that the gains made in civil rights were not his accomplishments alone, but the result of a united effort led by many and he doesn’t truly deserve all the praise and adoration he receives. Perhaps they’re right. King after all was just a man. He wasn’t some saintly figure above reproach. Like all of us he had his flaws and his shortcomings, he chain smoked, drank liquor and yes, even cursed on occasion. But even with his flaws King did nothing to diminish his legacy. Besides, it is not King the man we honor today, but King the idealist, the visionary, the dreamer and all that his beliefs helped to accomplish.
When I think about King I think of hope. I see King as a man of love, who believed in cooperation, compromise and working together for the common good. He saw things not as they were, but as they should be. He wasn’t afraid to stand up in the face of adversity for what he believed in. He is a shining example of leadership. We rarely see the type of dream,compassion and dedication he possessed, in our leaders today. We certainly don’t see enough of it in our citizens. If more people had the courage of their convictions as he did, our society would continue to evolve and we would go on making great strides in our efforts to be better human beings who respect life and one another.
Do I believe King deserves a day honoring him? Damn right I do! He was an outstanding humanitarian. Like any man he certainly had his shortcomings but his accomplishments in the area of civil rights are unprecedented. So please take a moment today to remember Dr. King, what he has done and how the world has changed for the good because of his contributions. MLK deserves our respect, he’s earned it He led us to the mountaintop and showed us what could be, He gave us a dream to believe in, an American dream…