January 14, 2009 > Martin Luther King, Jr. - An American Icon
Martin Luther King, Jr. - An American Icon
By Pushpa Warrier
If you can't be a pine on the top of a hill
Be a scrub in the valley-but be
The best little scrub on the side of the hill,
Be a bush if you can't be a tree.
If you can't be a highway just be a trail;
If you can't be the sun, be a star.
It isn't by size that you win or fail;
Be the best of whatever you are.
Martin Luther King, Jr. 04/09/1967
Each year, on the third Monday of January, schools, federal offices, post office and banks across America close to celebrate the birth, life and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a time for our nation to pay tribute to the man, his dream and the eloquent oratory that galvanized action through nonviolent means to remedy injustice and fight for freedom, equality and dignity of all races and peoples.
In the struggle for civil rights in America, King is a singular icon. Prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott; keynote speaker at the March on Washington; youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate; all of this and more accrued to King before his untimely murder in 1968. In retrospect, single events are less important than the fact that King and his policy of non-violent protest was the dominant force in the civil rights movement during its decade of greatest achievement, from 1957 to 1968.
Born Michael Luther King (renamed "Martin" when he was about 6 years old) in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929, he was one of three children of Martin Luther King, Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Alberta King, a former schoolteacher. After attending local grammar and high schools, King enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1944. He wasn't planning to enter the ministry, but met Dr. Benjamin Mays, a scholar whose manner and bearing convinced him that a religious career could be intellectually satisfying.
After receiving his bachelor's degree in 1948, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., winning the Plafker Award as outstanding student of the graduating class, and the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship as well. King completed the coursework for his doctorate in 1953, and was granted the degree two years later upon completion of his dissertation.
Married by then, King returned to the south as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. Here, he made his first mark on the civil rights movement, by mobilizing the black community during a 382-day boycott of the city's bus lines. King overcame arrest and other violent harassment, including the bombing of his home. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional.
A national hero and a civil-rights figure of growing importance, King convened a meeting with a number of black leaders in 1957 and laid the groundwork for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King was elected its president, and soon began helping other communities organize their own protests against discrimination.
After completing his first book and returning from a trip to India, King, in 1960, became co-pastor, with his father, of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Three years later, King's nonviolent tactics were put to their most severe test in Birmingham, during a mass protest of unfair hiring practices and the desegregation of department-store facilities. Police brutality used against the marchers dramatized the plight of black people with enormous impact. King was arrested, but his voice was not silenced: He wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" to refute his critics.
Later that year, King was a principal speaker at the historic March on Washington, where he delivered his passionate, signature sermon, "I Have a Dream." Time magazine designated him as its Person of the Year for 1963. A few months later he was named recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
When he returned from Norway, where he received the award, King took on new challenges. In Selma, Ala., he led a voter-registration campaign that ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery Freedom March. King next brought his crusade to Chicago, launching programs to rehabilitate the slums and provide decent housing.
Death came for King April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel just off Beale Street. King was shot in the neck by a rifle bullet. A white-separatist named James Earl Ray was convicted of the murder. King's death triggered a wave of violence in major cities across the country, an antithesis of his lifelong commitment to non-violent intervention.
King's legacy has lived on. In 1969, his widow, Coretta Scott King, organized the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Today it stands next to his beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed, is now the National Civil Rights Museum.
Many activities are scheduled to honor the memory of King and preserve his legacy of faith and hope. The following represent some of those scheduled in the Greater Tri-City area:
Friday, January 16
An inspirational morning with Keynote speaker Dr. Janice Jones, Ohlone College and Christine Beitsch, Executive Director, Compassion Network CitySERVE. YMCA Kid City Mayor, Francesca De Las Alas will also be present.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast
7:30 - 9:00 a.m.
Sponsored by Fremont/Newark YMCA
46100 Landing Pkwy., Fremont
Sunday, January 18
Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King
Words, visuals, music and fellowship sponsored by Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society.
First Presbyterian Church of Newark
35450 Newark Blvd., Newark
Monday, March 19
Martin Luther King March and Rally
Submitted by Pat Buchanan
The 8th Annual Martin Luther King March and Rally on January 19 begins with a gathering at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall Plaza on Watkins and B Streets in Hayward. The event will include a march from the plaza up Watkins taking a left at C Street, left on Mission, another left on A Street, left onto Grand, left on B to arrive back at City Hall Plaza. All signals will be observed during the march. This rally will be led by the faith-based congregations of South Hayward Parish. MLK's words that will be read will focus on peace and justice. Readings will be interspersed with songs by local choirs and community singing. We invite the community to remember Dr. King by marching and singing with us.
9 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
Watkins and B Street, Hayward
Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
Submitted by Marilyn Baker-Madsen
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be remembered and celebrated at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration scheduled for Monday, January 19, 6 p.m. at Centennial Hall, 22292 Foothill Blvd. in Hayward. This birthday extravaganza will feature an exciting evening of performances celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This event will also honor the accomplishments of Hayward resident and Tuskegee Airman, Captain Leon "Woodie" Spear. Tuskegee Airmen will join us the evening and there will be a display of Woodie's Tuskegee memorabilia.
A memorable and stirring presentation by four members of Tommie Lindsey's award-winning Forensic Team for James Logan High School will honor Dr. King and his legacy as well as tell the stories of Rosa Parks and Tuskegee Airmen.
Inspirational and entertaining musical tributes to Dr. King, Jr. will be performed by the Tennyson High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of John Orosco, Mt. Eden High School Choir under the direction of Ken Rawdon, the Eden Garden/Ochoa Schools Concert Choir under the direction of Victoria Schmidt and the Palma Ceia Baptist Church Choir under the direction of Dr. Silvester Henderson, Minister of Music.
Enjoy a Tuskegee Airmen Memorabilia display and a special framed exhibition of photographs posters and murals collected by the Hayward Public Library at this free event that is open to the public.
Enjoy free refreshments after the program.
6 - 8 p.m.
22292 Foothill Blvd., Hayward
In the spirit of reconciliation and peace for all people throughout the Tri-Cities, our country and the world, the full text of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech given at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963 follows:
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our Nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must ever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.
We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.
We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.
We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for white only."
We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.
No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.
You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow. I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident
Go back to Mississippi, go that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
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.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that, let freedom, ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.
And when this happens, when we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."