Since 1986, on the third Monday in January, the nation honors the enduring legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Born on January 15, 1929, Dr. King became a prominent civil rights leader, starting in 1955 as he became the organizer and leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, protesting segregated seating on the city buses. By the end of the bus boycott, Dr. King was on his way to becoming the conscience of the nation, striking a blow for what was right. While confronting hate and bigotry, segregation and discrimination, Dr. King had no problem speaking truth to power and did so with oratorical eloquence. In the words of a popular song, “he showed himself mighty, he showed himself strong.”
In the tradition of early black preachers and religious leaders in America, dating back to 1787 and the Reverend Richard Allen, founder of the Free African Society, Dr. King dedicated his life to the betterment of blacks in America. Being committed to the philosophy of non-violence, Dr. King warned, “we will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and in winning our freedom, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.” In the struggle to end legal segregation and Jim Crow in the United States, he continually put his life on the line for our democratic ideals.
In assessing Dr. King’s historic successes from his involvement in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, we have to mention the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which he gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, which reminded America that blacks were still demanding “the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” Subsequently, Congress passed the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, thus ending legal segregation in public places and setting the stage for greater political power for blacks, respectively.
Some might argue that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the most outstanding man the South has ever produced. Regardless, I do hope you will agree with me that we owe Dr. King a great deal of gratitude for all he did for the Civil Rights movement in America. And some 49 years since Dr. King’s death in 1968 by an assassin’s bullet, we are still grappling with achieving racial integration and reconciliation.
Today, as we reflect on Dr. King’s enduring legacy, it is woefully obvious that much of his dream still remains unfulfilled. Further, this year’s anniversary of Dr. King’s birthday is more poignant than ever as we mark the end of the historic Obama years and witness the beginning of the Trump Presidency, with some viewing it as a threat to our democracy.
In the spirit of hope and optimism, President Obama once said, “opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.” Let’s remember, Dr. King’s work was not an end, but a beginning.
Larry Sutton is a retired teacher from Clinton High School.