Monday, January 21, 2008

A man without borders

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, first observed on January 20, 1986. Were he alive today (January 15), King would have celebrated his 79th birthday. Millions of Americans are remembering the civil rights leader and human rights advocate over this long holiday weekend.

King was a husband, a father, and a preacher. He was also the preeminent leader of a movement that continues to transform America and the world. One of the twentieth century's most influential men, he lived an extraordinary life.

To view a timeline of milestones in King's life, click here. Click here for a slide show that tells King's story through his widow, the late Coretta Scott King.

To truly understand King, this writer believes that one should read his writings. The King Estate has copyrighted his works. However, selected examples of his writings may be viewed online. Among them - the address King delivered in acceptance of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. The King Papers Project is housed at Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.

Journalists, historians, legislators and community leaders continue to examine whether King's appeal for peace with justice is as relevant today as it was when he was alive. Last year, an editorial in the Houston Chronicle attempted to place King's philosophy into present-day perspective in an editorial. Here is an excerpt from the piece:

Although he rose to national prominence fighting racial segregation in the South, many of the issues roiling the United States 38 years after his assassination would be very familiar to Martin Luther King Jr.

Before his death, the Baptist minister had denounced America's involvement in the Vietnam War, a daring stance that fueled the growing opposition to the carnage in Southeast Asia. He was bitterly criticized in the media and by government officials for venturing beyond the sphere of civil rights, as if that were the only area in which he was entitled to an opinion.

With the country now split by the bloody, open-ended struggle in Iraq and by the mistaken justification for going to war, it's not hard to predict where King would stand on the matter.

Americans debate the revelation that their government is conducting warrantless surveillance of Americans inside the United States. King had plenty of experience on that score. He was relentlessly wiretapped and trailed by the FBI. Then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was convinced that King was a communist sympathizer.

Just as he stood with refuse workers in Memphis in the last days before an assassin's bullet struck him down, King would championed the dispossessed evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, potent symbols of a race-based economic underclass that persists as a legacy of slavery and discrimination. The New Orleans nightmare that Katrina exposed indicates that the vision King enunciated in his "I Have a Dream" speech is not yet realized.

Like his role model for nonviolent protest, Mohandas K. Gandhi, King grew to be a world figure by embracing universal humanitarian concerns that surmounted ethnicity and religion. As he once said, "Evil is not driven out, but crowded out ... through the expulsive power of something good."

That's why the celebration of his life today cannot be limited to a single community or issue. African-Americans are justly proud that he rose from their ranks, but his life is significant to all Americans.

Nearly four decades after his death in 1968, some say "King is facing the same fate that has befallen many a historical figure - being frozen in a moment in time that ignores the full complexity of the man and his message." Writer Deepti Hajela explains.

Related: Preserving the Dream

Video: King's entire "I Have a Dream" speech

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Andre said...

With stirring missives like this, I doubt that Dr. King's legacy will diminish too quickly.

Great post Deb!

Deb S. said...

Andre: Thank you - and welcome to this end of the blogosphere. :-)

Andre said...

Thanks. I ran into your page from Malik's. I have to say, it's quite the read. Thanks for blessing me with this!

Anonymous said...

Great tribute to the great man.