On MLK Day, we remember the life and struggles of Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American civil rights leader, who pushed the envelope, with countless others, to demand equal treatment of African-Americans and people of color.
Remembering the passionate, non-violent champion for civil rights is extra special today. For the first time, visitors can reflect on the man and his life, at the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, located on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Dozens of people flocked to the memorial for a ceremony to remember King. Harry Johnson, the president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, laid a wreath at the foot of the memorial this morning.
Rev. Al Sharpton and senior advisor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar attended the ceremony. You may recall that Salazar recently gave the National Park Service a month to fix an abbreviated version of a quote, etched into the statue centerpiece of the memorial. The quote is from King’s 1968 sermon, The Drum Major Instinct. Writer Maya Angelou and other critics said the current version of the quote made King sound uncharacteristically egotistical.
That unfortunate controversy didn’t stop Valerie Jackson from making a trip to see the new memorial. “When I knew that a work conference was going to be held in DC, being able to see this (MLK, Jr. Memorial) became the primary reason for my visit,” she said. “It’s so awesome to have a memorial, dedicated to an African-American, in the middle of all these other monuments and memorials. This is big.”
Duane Calloway, who hails from Mobile, AL, remembers the 60’s Civil Rights Movement with King at the forefront. “He was our hope during a time when we lived in harsh conditions, and when we were treated like second-class citizens.”
That time seems so long ago, and inconceivable to today’s generation. Just ask Sarah Evans, a teacher from Friends Community School in College Park, MD. Her 6th-grade class visited the memorial recently to discuss the importance of King and his significance to the Civil Rights Movement. So we asked Evans if she thought, based on her interactions with students, whether she thought race relations have improved. “Kids are smart, and yes there may be physical differences, but this generation and group of kids embrace those differences. They realize there are more similarities than differences.”
Most people we talked to agree race relations are better because of King’s resilient charge to end inequality. Patricia Hughes, an African-American mother from Norfolk, VA, said things have changed, but she still has a message for her 18-year-old daughter, who will pursue her undergrad degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, this year. “I love her dearly, but I’ve also warned her that many obstacles will come her way, and she will have to work extra hard to succeed as a black woman. I just tell her to push through no matter how discouraged she may get. That’s why we’re here.” Hughes said. “Rev. King laid the ground work, but we still have much work to do.”
So today is a time to reflect on how influential MLK was in changing the world, and how we continue to fight for the equal treatment of people regardless of their skin color, gender or sexual preference. It’s what he would have wanted, and it’s how we honor his legacy.
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