Tuesday, January 15, 2008

And We Call Him Martin ......

Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy is being celebrated today - January 15th, on what would have been his 80th birthday.

It took nearly two decades to make King's birthday the legal holiday that Americans celebrate on Monday (January 21st). Legislation to declare King's birthday a national holiday was introduced in Congress every year after his assassination on April 4, 1968, but throughout the '70s the bills were rejected time and time again. President Ronald Reagan finally signed legislation creating the holiday in November 1983, after a persistent15-year lobbying effort. It was the first new federal holiday created since Memorial Day was established in 1948.

The holiday's first official year was 1986, but many states -- most notably Arizona and New Hampshire -- were slow to adopt the holiday. In 1999, New Hampshire became the last state to honor Dr. King with a holiday when the state's Governor Jeanne Shaheen signed a bill setting aside the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Day.

King is the only American besides George Washington to have a national holiday designated for his birthday. The birth dates of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, and others have been celebrated in some states but not nationwide.

Internationally, King is one of the few social leaders of any country to be honored with a holiday (Mahatma Gandhi's birthday is observed in India). Countries usually only honor military or religious figures. Given such obstacles, the holiday is a powerful tribute to King's philosophy and stature.

We can never forget those who have come before to pave the way. Especially a man named Martin who had a dream. Click here to see King's speech, "I Have A Dream."

ON NONVIOLENCE (From Birmingham jail, 1963): "In your statement, you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of the Crucifixion?"

ON BLACKS IN AMERICA (From Birmingham jail, 1963): "Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands."

ON NONCOMFORMITY (1963): "This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Dangerous passions of pride, hatred and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless Calvaries. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority."

ON BLACK POWER (1967): "Today's despair is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow's justice. Black Power is an implicit and often explicit belief in black separatism. Yet behind Black Power's legitimate and necessary concern for group unity and black identity lies the belief that there can be a separate black road to power and fulfillment. Few ideas are more unrealistic. There is no salvation for the Negro through isolation."

ON MARCHING FOR CIVIL RIGHTS (Selma to Montgomery, 1965): "Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom. Let us march to the realization of the American dream. Let us march on segregated housing. Let us march on segregated schools. Let us march on poverty. Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race baiters disappear from the political arena, until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence."

ON PEACE (1964): "Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant."

ON THE DREAM OF FREEDOM (1963): "So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed . . . that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true."

ON FREEDOM (1963): "So let freedom ring. From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, let freedom ring. But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. And when this happens, when we let it ring, we will speed that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last, free at last/Thank God Almighty, we're free at last."

ON HIS OWN FUTURE (April 3, 1968): "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. I won'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. So I'm happy tonight. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

There will be a lot of talk today about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the impact his dream continues to have on African Americans and people of color around the world. I am sure forums will be held and panels assembled, bread will be broken at luncheons around the country and candlelight vigils will be held in his honor. Sometimes we as Black Americans talk too much about our fallen heroes as we celebrate them on some appointed day or holiday. Dr. Martin Luther King deserves to be honored for the great man that he was and all that he accomplished in his relatively short lifetime. But Martin deserves to be remembered on the other 364 days of the year. Because Martin was a simple man with a dream who made all the difference in the world.


  1. Wonderful tribute to Dr. King!

    What's sad that some states still doesn't want to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr birthday.

    Happy Birthday, Dr. King

  2. Anonymous9:20 AM

    Today we should all pause and think of the rights we have now.Dr. King and the poeple fromhis generation fought so we could have a chance for a better life. Now here's my question , do you feel we, the majority, have used the opportunities we now have? Do you believe we arec moving forward, at a standstill or reversing all of Kin's hard work?

  3. Very nice, Nikki! Yes, when King started using the term "black" in reference to race (prior to that it was Negro) the government really got nervous. He was becoming, in their eyes, too militant. That was in 1967 when he was seen with the likes of Stokely Carmichael. This is the MLK jr that I really love because he was really getting his hands dirty. He actually lived in an apartment in Chicago just to be close to the people! Amazing! Thanks for this.

  4. Nikki, I meant to commend you yesterday for this post. It's a keeper.

  5. Anonymous8:10 PM

    Dr. King has always been one of my biggest influences in life. I admire him dearly, what he did and what he stood for! He was an amazing man with powerful character! You can definitely tell a man of God when you see one, and he surely was!

    Thanks for posting this! =)