Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - More Than Just "A Dream"
January 14, 2013
On Monday, January 21st, MCPL will be closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. On that day, his speech, "I Have a Dream," will be repeated many times. One of the most famous and inspiring orations in all of history, it has come to define Dr. King’s legacy. Its impact cannot be underestimated. However, because of the tremendous focus on that one speech, many of the other contributions King made to our country have been forgotten.
Dr. King’s entire life now seems to be defined by those four simple, yet powerful words. But King’s works went far beyond that single day in August, and even beyond civil rights. For example, he was one of the first major political figures to openly express opposition to the Vietnam War. This was, at the time, a very unpopular stance that caused some to question his patriotism. And Martin Luther King Jr. was also a very strong advocate for the underprivileged of all colors. In 1968, he combined with other civil rights organizations to create the Poor People’s Campaign.
The Poor People’s Campaign was part of an effort to get an economic bill of rights passed in Congress. The strides that had been made in the civil rights movement had not been reflected in the dire economic situation many African Americans, as well as those of other races, still faced. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty seemed to have been diverted by its focus on the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King and other organizers hoped to bring attention back to the plight of all of America’s poor. This was to eventually culminate in another march on Washington.
Dr. King firmly believed that economic inequality and civil rights were deeply intertwined. In fact, when King was assassinated in Tennessee, he was there supporting striking sanitation workers. A chronicle of what would be his final crusade can be found in Going Down Jericho Road: the Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign, by Michael K. Honey. And for a look at his beliefs regarding economic justice, a good book to try is All Labor Has Dignity, a collection of his speeches and writings about the topic that was a very important part of his life’s mission.
With the MLK holiday coinciding with the second inauguration of President Barack Obama this year, now is a good time to become more acquainted with the man that has sometimes been overshadowed by the myth. As the country continues to move forward in regards to civil rights, it is important to remember how difficult and complicated that struggle was. It is also important to remember all of the contributions that the fascinating man we honor on Monday made to our country. We have not yet reached the "promised land" that King dreamed of. We are closer, however, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one the reasons why we have come as far as we have.