Martin Luther King Jr. died for the beliefs he espoused, for his uncommon eloquence and charisma, and for his brave and relentness crusade for racial justice and equality. His assassination in 1968 sealed in blood his place as the pre-eminent American champion for human rights in the 20th century. So it is fitting that a grateful nation set aside this day each year to pay him homage.
King's legacy is a perfect blend of word and action. His actions helped to define who we are today, a racially diverse nation that has twice chosen a black man to lead us. King's words will forever define the man and his inspiring vision of an America free of fear and prejudice.
Herewith a sampling:
"In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law." Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.
"O God, our gracious Heavenly Father... . Help us to follow Thee and all of Thy creative works in this world. And that somehow we will discover that we are made to live together as brothers. And that it will come in this generation: the day when all men will recognize the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." Sermon, April 7, 1957.
"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.' ... When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!' " Address at march on Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 1963
"And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And 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. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. ... Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." Speech on April 3, 1968, the eve of his death.