Throughout the history of our world, there comes a person every few decades or so who challenges traditional values, breaks through barriers, brings people together, and helps creates a better world. Dr. Martin Luther King was one of those people.
This week we celebrate what would have been his 81st birthday. Dr. King’s accomplishments speak for themselves. Borrowing from the ideals of Gandhi and other human rights leaders, he helped create the U.S. Civil Rights movement, promoting equal rights between peoples of all colours and religious backgrounds. Along with labour unions and other equal rights organizations, he led the March on Washington in 1963, where hundreds of thousands of people listened to his dream for a better America.
“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!” This wasn’t just a speech. It was poetry.
A year later, Dr. King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, and a national holiday was established in his name in 1986.
It is important to realize that the Civil Rights Movement didn’t start with the March on Washington. Believe it or not, it began with very small groups of people in Church basements in the U.S. South, which really goes to show that it only takes a handful of people to start a movement that can change the world.
Also important are the other values that Dr. King stood for, many of which are ignored or forgotten by historians and journalists. First and foremost, he believed in peace and was a rigorous opponent of the Vietnam War. One doesn’t have to be a history professor to realize what he would have thought of the Iraq War if he were alive today. King also believed in the rights of workers and the poor, and that everyone should have access to a good paying job, health care, education, housing and other necessities of life. As the Civil Rights leaders used to say in the 1960s, let’s keep our eyes on the prize.
Today, King is considered one of the greatest Americans in history. Yet during his life, he received criticism from people in positions of power and privilege, many of whom labelled him “radical” or “revolutionary.” Sounds familiar? It’s some of the same rhetoric thrown at President Barack Obama, an advocate for social justice and equality in his own right.
The link between Dr. King and President Obama today is very strong. As one writer put it, “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King Jr. could march so Obama could run so the children of tomorrow can fly.” It illustrates our need to continue the work of Dr. King and all those who came before him so that one day, we really will see his dream become reality.
“Together We Can Make A Difference”