Commentary: King’s legacy should never be forgotten

“Never let a man drag you so low that you hate him,” said Dr. Martin Luther King. Today, the question is does racial discrimination still exist?

The United States of America has honored only four men in history by declaring the day of their birth a national day of celebration — Jesus Christ of Nazareth, widely accepted as the father of all mankind; President George Washington, the father of this nation; Christopher Columbus, the man credited with discovering the Americas; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose forebears were brought to these shores in chains.

Dr. Martin Luther King (born Jan. 15, 1929) was an American civil rights pioneer, working primarily during the 1950s and 60s as an advocate for rights of African-Americans. He is famous across much of the world and is one of the most written-about persons in history, but in the United States specifically, we set aside a special day in his honor. Dr. Martin Luther King left a legacy!

Establishing a holiday in honor of Dr. King was a long process, full of controversy. The holiday was first proposed just four days after King’s death by John Conyers, a Democratic congressman from Michigan. The bill failed to pass year after year. Critics claimed that anyone who opposed it would be automatically deemed a racist, and that the country should not be bullied into recognizing King above many other figures who were equally deserving of the honor. Others pointed to his suspected communist ties and alleged indiscretions, and demanded his FBI records to be released to the public. Proponents of the bill had the easier job — promoting his tireless, undeniable efforts toward equality. Finally in 1970, Conyers convinced New York to recognize King’s birthday. It was a small but important first step toward establishing a national holiday.

After more than 10 years of rejection and despite continued harsh opposition, including an effort to have the holiday changed to “National Civil Rights Day,” Congress finally passed the bill in 1983. President Ronald Reagan, in his proclamation speech, defended King’s worthiness of the honor:

“This year marks the first observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national holiday. It is a time for rejoicing and reflecting. We rejoice because, in his short life, Dr. King, by his preaching, his example, and his leadership, helped to move us closer to the ideals on which America was founded. … He challenged us to make real the promise of America as a land of freedom, equality, opportunity, and brotherhood.”

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of the battle. It was three years, in 1986, before the federal government actually began to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Some areas of the South continued to protest by holding Confederate celebrations on the same day. It wasn’t until the 90s that MLK Day was accepted and celebrated all over the country. New Hampshire was the final state to adopt it as a paid holiday in 1999.

Dr. Martin Luther King was a humble man. In spite of the fact that Dr. King began his life burdened by the inherent disadvantages of being blessed with black skin in a Jim Crow environment, his words, his intellect, and his deeds so inspired the heart and soul of humanity that America saw fit to set aside a day for this nation. His was a soul with such strength that it served to lift the rest of mankind to a higher level of humanity.

That’s not only a testament to one black man’s ability to pull himself up from the dust of his humble beginnings, it’s also a testament to the capacity of his people to meet the test of greatness. Dr. Martin Luther King life spoke for him. He did not believe in violence but he was a man of peace.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was important because he tried to put an end to racism and make peace for the world. He advocated for African Americans to be treated equally. He wanted freedom for the world. The question is, has racial discrimination ended? The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement.

First proposed by President John F. Kennedy, it survived strong opposition from southern members of Congress and was then signed into law by Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. In subsequent years, Congress expanded the act and passed additional civil rights legislation such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

With all of the police brutality, mistreatment in the workplace, mistreatment in public places, mistreatment in our own churches. Has racism ended? During the early 20th century, African-Americans in some Southern states lived under a set of laws called Jim Crow laws. The Jim Crow laws meant that black Americans were required to live separately from white Americans and they were treated effectively as second-class citizens. Is there still a separation?

What about the shooting of Trayvon Martin which was a charge of second-degree murder, lesser included offense of manslaughter. On the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American high school student. Was justice served?

When Michael Brown was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, it awakened a movement that began with the previous killing of Trayvon Martin, who was shot in 2012 by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Brown’s death was not the first of its kind since Martin’s; just a month prior, Eric Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by NYPD officers.

Both deaths sparked protests across the country — protests that were renewed when grand juries declined to charge the officers involved in either case. The national outcry has cast light on similar cases from the past year, some leading to charges against the police officers involved, others not.

Racism is an ugly reality that continues to persist in modern America. However, Christians are called to live differently from the surrounding culture. We are to view all people as made in God’s image, of equal status, show no favoritism, love neighbor as self, and remember Christ died for all people.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero to all people of all races. At this moment we can tell ourselves how happy we all are to have the chance to live a dream life. His work as a civil rights activist is phenomenal and inspiring.

Editor’s note: Dr. Alisha Broughton is a college professor, author and civil-rights activist residing in Milton.

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