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January 9, 2008 > A dream remembered

A dream remembered

"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow. I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream."

On a summer day in 1963, one of the most famous speeches of history was delivered to thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Now, the third Monday of January is set aside to commemorate the man who gave these words and many other notable thoughts and actions as his gift to humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a civil upheaval in the United States that transcended artificial secular boundaries.

In the midst of profound changes, some rise to inspire and lead others to a great vision. In this case, a fundamental change in attitude and legal process was at work. Civil rights became an active concept that has continued throughout the intervening decades. The struggle for individual rights and freedom did not begin or end with King, but he was a linchpin to its struggle for recognition and viability. In his "I have a dream" speech, the great orator noted, "When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir."

Born on Jan. 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King, Jr., son and grandson of Baptist ministers, followed in their footsteps. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University, where his faith strengthened and the nonviolent strategies of Mahatma Gandhi were studied. While in Boston, King met and married Coretta Scott. King received a Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1955.

Repudiating violence as "impractical and immoral," King chose the opposite means to achieve civil change. He brought this philosophy to his congregation at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama when he became its pastor in 1954. The mid-century was a time of turmoil and unrest in the South as the concept and morality of segregation was being tested. Black people and sympathetic white people were converging on the Deep South determined to break the strangle hold of Jim Crow laws and terrorist practices of the Ku Klux Klan and similar racial and religious organizations.

King became president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, a group formed to respond to the arrest of Rosa Parks on Dec. 1, 1955 for failing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery city bus. This was not the first such incident but it was the one that galvanized the black community to action. A one day boycott of city buses was planned and extended for a year, during which national attention focused on the Civil Rights Movement and propelled Dr. King into a leading role. His nonviolent methods became a model for others challenging civil rights violations. In 1960, King became co-pastor of his father's church in Atlanta.

Protests escalated throughout the 60s as students and citizens combined efforts to remove legal separation of races. "Freedom Rides" brought confrontation and tragedy but ultimately, many segregationist laws were declared unconstitutional. In 1960, the Supreme Court ruled in Boynton v. Virginia that segregation of interstate travel was illegal. Organized efforts to travel through the south as integrated passengers were met with violence condoned by local law enforcement. Beatings and extreme brutality escalated as segregationists tried to break the movement, but on May 29, 1961, the Kennedy administration announced that it had directed the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban segregation in all facilities.

By 1963 mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, a city known for violent opposition to integration by its police force, were led by SCLC and King. The result of the confrontations brought more media attention and caught the attention of President Kennedy who said "...who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would be content with the counsels of patience and delay? I shall ask the Congress to make a commitment that has not been fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life." He submitted civil rights legislation to Congress which eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the summer of 1963, a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, attracted 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial to hear King give his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Time Magazine hailed him as "Man of the Year" in 1963 and he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In the latter half of the 60s, black leadership began to splinter and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover resolved to weaken King's influence.

On Apr. 3, 1968, King went to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers and delivered his last speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop." Seemingly prescient of his fate, he said:

"We got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter to me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."

The next day, he was assassinated while standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. Martin Luther King, Jr. died that day but his words became more powerful than ever:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."


A national holiday was declared in his honor in 1986.


Local events for MLK Day:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration
Sunday, Jan 13
3 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church
35450 Newark Blvd., Newark
(510) 797-8811

Martin Luther King, Jr. Fellowship Breakfast
Wednesday, Jan 16
7:30 - 9:30 a.m.
California State University East Bay
25800 Carlos Bee Blvd., Hayward
(510) 451-8039 ext.783

MLK Rally and March
Monday, Jan 21
9:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
Watkins St., Hayward
(Between "B" St. and "C" Streets)
(510) 782-5795

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration
Monday, Jan 21
6 p.m.
Centennial Hall
22292 Foothill Blvd., Hayward
(510) 583-4300

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