Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is an American federal holiday that marks his birthday and honors him.
Dr. King was chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began shortly after his assassination in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983. It was first observed three years later and observed in all 50 states in 2000. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is Monday.
Dr. King focused upon this phrase from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
This is one of the most profound statements ever written; yet, in America’s somewhat short history, Americans didn’t always live the principles of equality expressed in the Declaration’s preamble. (They embodied the cynical words of my construction coworker who often said “Everyone is created equal, but some are created more equal than others.”)
For years Americans tolerated legalized slavery. To abolish slavery, the bloody Civil War was fought. After their emancipation, African–Americans were sometimes denied their rights through unjust laws, customs and policies. Protest against these led to the civil rights movement.
In his famous “I Have a Dream speech” Dr. King did not directly attack America for her failure to live the equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence; instead, he reminded Americans of the self-evident truths stated in the Declaration’s preamble by saying, “I have a dream that someday America will rise up and live out the meaning of its creed, that all men (and women) are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
On April 4, 1968, Rev. King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., presumably to silence him. In front of this motel is a marker with the message from Genesis 37:19–20, “Here cometh the Dreamer. Come on, let slay him and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
At Christ’s Church Cathedral in Houston, Texas. Rev. Rhoda Montgomery preached that you might expect the marker would contain an excerpt from Reverend King’s “I have a Dream speech” such as the phrase “Free at Last,” inscribed on his tombstone. But the marker’s words do invite us to help achieve Dr. King’s dream of equal rights.
If Dr. King were alive today he might applaud the progress America has made in civil rights, but he would quickly add there is more to be achieved. We can help Dr. King’s dream come true by being informed on civil rights, voting responsibly, treating everyone justly with respect and being peacemakers in a world of too much violence.
Lange, the retired pastor of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Hazel Green, lives in Platteville.