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Friday, January 14, 2011

We Still Have a Dream...

"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...
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  (1/15/29 - 4/4/68)
Photo by Dick DeMarsico, 1964,  Library of Congress

This coming Monday, January 17, 2011, is a U.S. federal holiday honoring the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Nobel Peace Prize winner and posthumus winner of a Congressional Gold Medal.  It is always celebrated on the third Monday of the month of January, although his birthday was on January 15th.  The holiday was signed into law in 1983, and first observed in 1986.  It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

President Ronald Reagan and Coretta Scott King at the signing, 11/2/83.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia. 

This idea began as a union demand in contract negotiations.  Dr. King had collaborated in the 50s and 60s with union activists, and he was assassinated while in Memphis supporting a union strike.  A bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday in 1979, but it lacked five votes to pass.  There were two main arguments against the bill:  (1) it was too expensive to make it a paid holiday for federal employees, and; (2) there was a longstanding tradition that only those who held public office were so honored.  It is questionable if they really were the main reasons.  

Crowds surround the Reflecting Pool during the
1963 March on Washington.
Photo by Warren K. Leffler, Library of Congress

The King Center (the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change) enlisted support from the general public and corporate community.  Unions provided financial support to the movement nationwide.  Six million signatures were collected, the largest in U.S. history, for a petition urging Congress to pass the law.

Dr. King with Lyndon Johnson, 3/18/66
Photo by White House Press Officer, Yoichi R. Okamoto
LBJ Library and Museum

There was much opposition.  Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) led the opposition, issuing a scathing attack on the movement.  He called Dr. King a lawbreaker “subject to influence and manipulation by Communists”.  Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) voted against the bill and backed then-Governor Mecham’s rescission of the state holiday.  He reversed himself when the bill grew in popularity.  Even President Reagan was initially in opposition to it, and signed only after it passed in Congress (338 to 90 in the House; 78 to 22 in the Senate).

Dr. King with Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, 3/26/64.
Photo by Marion S. Trikosko, LOC

Dr. King is honored in postage stamps all over the world – more stamps have been issued in his honor than any other African American.  Hiroshima, Japan, celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, equating King’s message of human rights and nonviolence with their call for peace.  One of the foremost leaders of civil rights, human rights, and peace, he alongside Gandhi, are worldwide symbols of non-violence.

The Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated, now the site of the
National Civil Rights Museum.
Photo by Bob Jagendorf

In 1984, in a beautiful ceremony honoring Dr. King in Jerusalem, Navy chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff quoted a verse from Genesis that Joseph’s brothers said when they saw him coming, “Behold the dreamer comes; let us slay him and throw him into the pit, and see what becomes of his dreams.”  He stated further the belief that slaying the dreamer would slay the dream is wrong, as Dr. King’s death proved.

Dr. King giving his "I Have a Dream" speech, 8/28/63.
Photo courtesy of The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

An outstanding orator, no mention of Dr. King would be complete without his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  This is ranked No. 1 of the top 100 American speeches on American Rhetoric (Robert F. Kennedy's "Remarks on the Assassination of MLK" is No. 17).  A thoughtful, well-spoken man cut down in his prime, we can only imagine what he might have accomplished.  We share your dream, Dr. King, and remember you with love and respect.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks to Gid White, Master Sergeant, U.S. Army (retired) for informing me that it was not the Congressional Medal of Honor that MLK received but rather the Congressional Gold Medal. The Medal of Honor (the correct title) is reserved for valorous service in combat.