Free At Last – Martin Luther King

Posted on February 23, 2012

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“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

By Ryan Baird

Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr is a name known throughout the world, and rightly so. Dr. King was a great leader with great ideals and principles that still hold true today. His efforts in attaining equal civil rights for all Americans led to the implementation of the Civil Rights Act (1964), a year after the legendary “I have a dream” speech he delivered to more than 200,000 civil rights supporters in the nation’s capital.

His legacy of tolerance lives on today and remains the foundation for many civil rights movements. Not only did King lift African Americans out of oppression but homosexuals, people of differing religions and women.

All over the world, MLK Day is celebrated: in the city of Hiroshima, Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba holds a special banquet in his offices in commemoration of Dr. King. This is not the only place outside of the United States to celebrate the man responsible for equality in America. In Toronto, MLK Day is a recognised, unpaid holiday.

Initially, the bill to create the holiday faced a lot of opposition from Republican Party politicians. Former-president Ronald Reagan only signed the bill after it was passed in Congress by a landslide. It wasn’t until 2000 that every state recognised and celebrated MLK together, 14 years after the bill was passed.

At the beginning of his successful and massively influential career as a civil rights activist, King became pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. By this time, King was a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, the leading organisation of its kind. He was ready, by the time December of 1955 came, to lead the first major nonviolent demonstration against segregation, the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Although a major victory for the movement, it did not come easily: the boycott lasted 382 days and boycotters, including King, faced personal abuse and persecution.

Throughout his career, King was arrested more than 25 times.

In the 11 years during which King was an active leader in the civil rights movement, he travelled more than six million miles and spoke at over 2500 times in public.

At the age of just 35, King was the youngest man to have ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. King donated the money ($54,123) from the award to the civil rights movement.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray. In the aftermath of King’s death, a wave of race riots spread throughout the country. Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy delivered a short speech urging King’s followers to maintain his ideal on nonviolence. King said: “returning violence with violence only multiplies violence.” Other prominent members of the civil rights movement seconded the call for supporters to remain nonviolent. In the recording of King’s last sermon, which was played at his funeral, he asked that his list of awards and honours not be mention but rather that he tried to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked and love and serve humanity.”

The election of an African American to the White House was a major success for civil rights, rights that were delivered on the back of the actions of Dr. King.

Worldwide, King is a symbol of peace and tolerance and his legacy lives on in the freedom with which all Americans are born.

“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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