It is not unusual to hear many Americans comment about the purpose of celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The perception among various groups or citizens is that this observance is to appease the African-American populace.
Yet, this recognition is bestowed upon an American who communicated the passion of being a bona fide patriot along with ensuring social injustices and hatred didn’t destroy the fiber of democracy for future generations.
While working at a state university in 1992, I was invited to talk to the administrative support employees about human resource practices. Legislation had recently been passed to shorten state employees’ Christmas holiday leave by one day to accommodate the addition of the MLK holiday to the higher education annual calendar.
One of the participants stated that many people didn’t like the notion of having a day eliminated in lieu of a federally mandated holiday forced on them. As the only male and African-American in the room, I decided to share one of Dr. King’s quotes, Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
This is not a holiday for one specific race. It’s an American holiday recognizing how one individual helped shape the American “separate but equal” era into a new epoch of “equality” for all. Our charge in acknowledging Dr. King on his birthday is to remember, act and celebrate!
Within a span of 13 years from 1955 to his death in 1968, this gentleman was able to expound, expose and extricate America from many wrongs. His accomplishments were self-sacrificing. His talents and gifts were numerous with an emphasis on serving others, not himself, in various occupations.
Let us remember a compassionate Christian minister living and practicing his faith as displayed by Jesus. He was ordained as a minister at the age of 19. His first full-time pastorship was at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. Dr. King led the congregation and community during the Montgomery bus boycott using a non-violent approach. In 1960, Dr. King resigned from this church, and he joined his father as co-pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.
Do we recall his ability as a scholar? Graduating from high school at the age of 15, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Morehouse College in 1948. That fall, he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa. Dr. King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University in September 1951. He also studied at Harvard University. He was awarded his doctorate of philosophy in systematic theology from Boston University June 5, 1955.
Or do we remember him as an activist? He was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization responsible for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956. He was a founder and president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1957 to 1968, placing the framework for battling unlawful discrimination throughout the country. He was arrested 30 times for his participation in civil rights activities. This determination led to the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Do we recall him as a dynamic oral communicator and author? These qualifications allowed Dr. King to earn the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. At age 35, Dr. King was the youngest man, the second American and the third black man awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was selected one of the most outstanding personalities of the year by “Time” in 1957 and named Man of the Year by “Time” in 1963.
He directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech Aug. 28, 1963. We remember that this minister, scholar, activist, orator and author was also a man of faith. He was a husband, father, son, brother, friend and mentor destined to offer the American dream to each of us.
His leadership style was active. The shared vision he orchestrated was clear and concise with a definition of freedom for all. Dr. King’s fortitude, focused on the awareness of social injustice, was nurtured by his parents. This parental cultivation came from Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King. His middle-class background could have allowed him to escape segregation by remaining in Boston. At that time residing in a northeastern city offered a better professional and personal opportunity for his bride Coretta and himself. Dr. King stated in “Stride Toward Freedom,” he and his wife decided that “our greatest service be rendered in our native South. We came to the conclusion that we had something of a moral obligation to return.” His action opened the global eyes to the ugliness of segregation and unfair treatment in post-World War II America.
So, how would you define your actions? Are you willing to make sacrifices for a worthy cause? Will you fulfill your purpose of striving to improve domestic and global concerns during the infancy of this new century? As Dr. King stated “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”
Let’s observe how his dream of opportunity for all inspired our country to respect each of our contributions regardless of race, gender, religion, color or national origin.
Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence and his strategies for rational and non-destructive social change galvanized the conscience of this nation and reordered its priorities.
We are celebrating Dr. King’s legacy for revealing the true essence of our constitution and respecting how each of us plays a vital role in enforcing freedom.