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We Shall Overcome

By Kevin Robinson in Miscellaneous on Jan 15, 2007 2:50PM

It would be easy to write the obligatory piece about "the man and the dream" today. The fact of the matter is that the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is so much more than just the speech he give at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 in Washington, DC. Although he is remembered in the US as one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the civil rights movement in the 1950's and 60's, his beliefs, his movement, and his legacy are so much more profound than just desegregation. Recognized around the world as a figure of peace and humanity, Dr. King's legacy is as profound as it is significant. Did you know that there is a statue dedicated to him in Mexico City?

Born on this day in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King graduated from Morehouse with a BA in sociology in 1948. In 1953, at the age of twenty-four, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgomery, Alabama, and in 1955 he completed his Ph.D in Systematic Theology at Boston University. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, launching the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and bringing Dr. King to both local and national prominence for his leadership. Dr. King recognized that organized peaceful and non-violent protest and civil disobedience would lead to a change in public opinion about the system of segregation and unequal voting rights. In 1957 he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he led until his death in 1968. In 1966 Dr. King came to Chicago, living in an apartment in a slum on the West Side, and leading marches to end segregated schools, neighborhoods and housing in the city.

In 1965, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, Dr. King's focus expanded to human rights — including labor and economic freedoms. Noting that many Americans that lived below the poverty line were, in fact, white, Dr. King developed a class perspective, maintaining that “true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar, it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” He became an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam and decried the distance between the rich and the poor in the US. In fact, what you probably won't hear in the news and on TV today is that when he was assassinated in Tennessee, he was supporting striking sanitation workers.

The fact that today is a federal holiday, as well as being recognized in all 50 states and many municipalities, is significant, in that it lends itself to the institutional memory of the work that Dr. King did, and the legacy of the civil rights movement not just in the US, but around the world. Surprisingly workers in the South are most likely to have the day off, as are unionized workers.

Whether you are at work today, or if you have the day off, we think today should be a day of reflection, of how far we've come, and how much farther we have to go. Many groups and institutions are holding events today and all week to commemorate this historic anniversary, and keep the spark of the movement alive. If you prefer to stay in today, reading some of his speeches and sermons, especially his lesser-known oratories, is also a great way to remember the man and the work he did for justice.