The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 14, 2021

By The Late Coretta Scott King
Special to the Milwaukee Times

Reprint from 1985, during the passage of the King Holiday bill by the U.S. Senate.

The late Coretta Scott King

We have set in motion a great celebration of freedom and justice, in honor of America’s hero and patriot, Martin Luther King, Jr.

When Martin began his career, the principles of social justice for which he stood were very controversial. But by the end of his career he was a widely respected leader of international stature, who helped lead an extraordinary revolution in America’s laws and customs. Martin’s moving example of dignity in the face of threats and hatred gave the whole nation a new hero to admire and emulate.

Martin knew that America’s democracy was not perfect. But he also knew that, when aroused, America’s conscience could be a powerful force for reform. His unique combination of moral leadership and practical political wisdom enlisted America’s conscience on the side of peaceful change.

His memory is engraved in the hearts and minds of his fellow Americans, and it is appropriate, as the President and the Congress have said, to remember and honor the values for which he stood. Each year, Martin’s national birthday celebration will rekindle in the hearts of all our people a new pride in America, a determination to make it an even greater nation.

It will also spark a new appreciation for its son, who was born into a world where bigotry and racism still hold sway. But before he died, he contributed immeasurably to the human rights of all people.

In my travels to the 50 states and U.S. territories as chairperson of the King Federal Holiday Commission, I find that Americans from all walks of life and every political persuasion share a common enthusiasm and excitement as we prepare to celebrate what has been called by President Reagan “A Celebration of Freedom and Justice to Unite All Our Citizens.”

There is a spirit of unity and good will sweeping this land. People of all races,religions, classes, politics and stations in life are coming together and putting aside differences in a spirit of reconciliation to make Monday, January 20, 1985 “Martin’s Day,” a day of great national unity and renewed patriotism consistent with the non-violent tradition of the man we prepare to honor.

It was not too long ago that Martin painted a vivid picture of what an America united would look like…an America in which all children could grow up to realize their full potential. January 20, 1985 must be seen as a way to reflect that vision, a way to celebrate the life and legacy of a man with a dream for all seasons.

The special recognition accorded Martin by the American people provides a unique opportunity for all Americans to reaffirm their faith in nonviolence at a time when violence in all its ugly forms seems to be a way of life. It also gives Americans a special moment to reaffirm their support for Martin’s beloved community and for the values that distinguish our republic in this troubled world.

The commission has chosen “Living the Dream” as its theme for the birthday celebration. We see “Martin’s Day” – the third Monday of each year – as: …a day to celebrate the life and dream of Martin Luther King Jr…

…a day to reaffirm the American ideals of freedom, justice and opportunity for all…

…a day for love, not hate; for understanding, not anger; for peace, not war..

. …a day for the family to share together, to reach out to relatives and friends and to mend broken relationships…

…a day when people of all races, religions, classes and stations in life put aside their differences and join in a spirit of togetherness…

…a day for our nation to pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., who awakened in us the best qualities of the American spirit…

…a day for nations of the world to cease all violent actions, seek non-violent solutions and demonstrate that peace is not just a dream but a real possibility, if only for one day.

We have come too far to be discouraged or to lose hope or to stop believing in the dream. If we believe in the justice for which he died, if we embrace his dream of a community where we can all come to love and care for one another, we will strive to complete his unfinished agenda, we will make his unfinished work our own. Let us be grateful for the providence that sends among us men and women with the courage and vision to stand peacefully but unyieldingly for what is right. Let us also make this a time when we rededicate ourselves to carry on the work of justice.

Martin showed how much good a single life, well led, can accomplish. Let Americans honor his memory by pledging in their own lives to do everything they can to make America a place where his dream of freedom and brotherhood and sisterhood will grow up and flourish and we can all be proud to sing with new meaning, “From every mountainside, Let freedom ring.”

Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was chairperson of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission and President of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. She died in 2006.