Honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, Special to The County
8 years ago

Each January, we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest and most influential figures in American history. A scholar, activist, and minister, Dr. King personified love and unity in the face of entrenched hate and institutional discrimination. His message of nonviolent protest forced us as a country to recognize our imperfect past and mobilized the masses across America to join the push for equality and justice.

As a college sophomore in the summer of 1963, I had the incredible fortune to witness Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I took a day off from my job moving furniture to join with 250,000 other Americans at the March on Washington. We started in small groups of people on the side streets of the nation’s capital. We joined together in larger streams, moving toward the main arteries of Washington. We stopped at the Washington Monument and heard Peter, Paul, and Mary sing of the Hammer of Justice and the Bell of Freedom. Then we came together in a mighty river of people flowing down to the Lincoln Memorial, eager to move forward towards the steps of the monument to hear Dr. King speak.

I had heard of Dr. King’s powerful eloquence before the March on Washington, but little did I know that I was about to witness one of the greatest speeches in American history. And as his voice rumbled through the microphone and out into the world, he not only changed the course of this country, he also helped to change countless hearts and minds with his inspiring dream of a more perfect union. As it was once said of Churchill, Martin Luther King on that day mobilized the English language and marched it into war, and in the process caught the conscience of a nation.

An amazing and little known fact about the “I Have a Dream” speech is that it almost didn’t happen. Dr. King began his speech with a prepared address that wasn’t getting much of a response from the audience, and it was only when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin,” that he looked up from his notes, spoke off-the-cuff and from the heart, and shared his now-immortal dream of a more equal and just America.

What Dr. King started is far from over. Those of us who share Dr. King’s dream have a responsibility to carry forward his message of tolerance, to meet hate with love, to understand rather than vilify, and to promote hope over despair.

Let us remember every day the lifetime of service Dr. King gave for the betterment of our country and rededicate ourselves to the values of equality and justice that he professed. As he famously wrote from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”