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Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was an American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Source: Universal History Archive / Getty

King Envisioned a Unified America

On Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday, millions of Americans celebrate and pay respect with a day of service to others and reflection on King’s legacy.  As we reflect, we are moved by a deep feeling of reverence especially when we think of how his work has changed America and has benefitted the country as a whole.

Dr. King’s legacy of change and his voice calling for the elimination of segregation and racism in American society moved the country as no other has done.  In the fight for civil rights many have showed significant leadership. But like no other, Dr. King clearly demonstrated a vision for the future of America as one society rather than two. He envisioned a society in which black and white worked, lived, played and worshiped together.

King’s Honor and Reverence Has Grown

Since King’s tragic death in 1968 at the hands of an assassin, the nation’s honor and reverence for him has only grown.  Around the country, practically every city has a major road named after this great civil rights leader.  He is the only civil rights leader that has a national holiday bearing his name, an honor usually reserved for presidents.  He has a statue in his honor on the mall in Washington, D.C. A postage stamp has been issued in his honor, and every child in elementary school memorizes key sentences and phrases from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

From the late fifties forward, Dr. King’s career in civil rights is inseparable from the early struggles of the movement.  We all have vivid images etched in our minds of Dr. King walking, arms locked, with others in the struggle unified behind his leadership.  In the struggle, they faced tremendous hatred and racial bigotry as they took a stand before America to say, without compromise, that racism would no longer stand in this country.

His Courage Inspired Many

Those images of Dr. King marching and working with others who shared his courage are indelible on our consciousness.  Dr. King didn’t have Twitter or any other social media platform from which to send his messages from the comfort and safety of his home or office some distance away.  He was up front among the people for whom he was fighting.

King marched on Washington step-by-step and arm-in-arm with everyday people who came together to battle the evils of racism.  A great deal of courage was required for Dr. King to take to the streets as he did.  He knew the risks that he was taking and it was a risk that ultimately cost him his life.  However, his courage inspired many, many more to courageously come together as one force to refuse to allow racism to be the rule of law in this country.

His Dream Has Become Our Dream

I am certain that his famous speech that was given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, was fervently spoken at every King Day event in the country today. In fact, that speech has become so central to our American heritage that it is reverently quoted by students, scholars, politicians and common people who have found their own inspiration from the work and accomplishments of this great man.

The “I Have A Dream” speech is rated among the great speeches of this nation; Kennedy’s inaugural speech and the Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The words have inspired this nation as none other have been able to do.  One cannot read the key phrases from that historic speech without getting goose bumps.

  • 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, that all men are created equal.'”
  • “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.”
  • “Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village 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 Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Dr. King was truly a great leader. For as we read his prophetic words, his ideas seem to become our ideas and we all find ourselves challenged to make his dream become a reality.

J Thomas Smith is host of “Sunday Morning Live” on “The Real Sound of Htown” KMJQ/Majic 102.1 (9-11 ct). He is an attorneyauthorkeynote speaker and mental health consultant. Your comments are welcome at jtsmith@radio-one.com or jtsmith@worldfamousradio.com. Follow on Twitter @drjtsmith102 on facebook.com/jthomas.smith.12 and instagram.com/drjtsmith102.

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