A fitting legacy for MLK is the call for service
Next month the nation will celebrate the birthday of two presidents, in May we will honor those killed in our defense, in July the Founders will be front and center, and in November we will thank our veterans.
But before we get to any of that, we have set aside Monday as a day to celebrate our conscience -- our social conscience, to be exact.
Since 1986, Americans have done that by observing a national holiday on the third Monday in January to honor the birth and life of the Rev. Martin Luther King.
Admittedly, some see Monday as just another three-day weekend that happens to fall during what used to be prime snow season (ahem). But that myopic view ignores the profound social and moral impact King has had on the nation. His life drove change that continues to influence our culture daily.
King became our national conscience when few others would. At great personal sacrifice, he opened our eyes and changed our country forever. We are happy he did.
Of course, many remember the stirring 1963 speech on the National Mall that catapulted King into our consciousness. Those born too late to remember have heard it in news clips. As brilliant as the oratory was, there was much more to King than a single speech. Much more.
In speech after speech, demonstration after demonstration, march after march, action after action, King challenged the orthodoxy of the times. He chided the nation’s establishment for willingly accepting institutionalized racism, while convincing those who had felt racism’s sting to throw off that oppression nonviolently.
King’s message of love, peace, equal justice and tolerance, embraced people of all races. He persisted even though he lived in a world that aggressively resisted and met his calls for nonviolence with fire hoses and even murder.
Ironically, it was a single act of violence in 1968 that took the 39-year-old King far too early. Although King was felled by a rifle shot that April day in Memphis, Tenn., his ideas about equality and fairness were not. If anything, they flourished.
Sadly, we have yet to fully realize King’s vision. There is work to be done, to be sure. But honest reflection forces even the staunchest social critics to admit much progress has been made toward his dream.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that created the King holiday, but 11 years later Congress also designated it as a national day of service.
We think that is a fitting legacy for King who spent his life in service to promoting equality. So maybe, just maybe, that is how we can best celebrate such a conscience: by living in service to the overall greater good.
~Contra Costa (Calif) Times
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