Seventy-three years ago, on January 15, 1939, a child was born who changed the world. Thirty-nine years and just under four months later, an assassin’s bullet, fired from hiding in the city of Memphis, Tennessee one fateful evening, took him away.
Martin Luther King, Jr., only lived thirty-nine years, but during that time, often in the face of staunch opposition from even his supporters, he charted a course through life, a course he followed unwaveringly, that was devoted to making the world a better place for all of its people.
A lot can be accomplished in thirty-nine years; King was proof of that. In 1957, when he was just 36, and a young pastor, King was chosen to be president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and he devoted his energy to ensuring that SCLC was focused on improving the lives of black people in America who had lived for a hundred years under the yoke of Jim Crow Laws and discrimination, denied the rights that had been guaranteed them by the U.S. Constitution. At 35, King became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. From 1957, until his death in 1968, King traveled six million miles and made over 2,500 public appearances in his pursuit for civil rights for all Americans. He wrote five books, many articles, and spent more than one night in jail for peacefully protesting the rigid segregation of cities such as Birmingham, Alabama.
Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln, King made the speech for which he is most well-known, the “I Have a Dream” speech. King said, “I have a dream that one day, in America, little black boys and little black girls will be able to stand with little white boys and little white girls and sing the songs of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God almighty, Free at Last.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., died before realizing his dream. On this day, as we mark his birthday, each and everyone us, in America and around the world, should renew our commitment to that dream. We should vow to let ‘freedom ring,’ from the majestic Rocky Mountains to the craggy valleys of Afghanistan; let ‘freedom ring’ from Stone Mountain in Georgia to the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe. We should, like King, not rest until every man and woman, every boy and girl, every Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, and Hindu, and other religion on this earth, everyone regardless of politics or ideology, can sit down together around the table of freedom and democracy in fellowship and recognition of the essential humanity of us all.