Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration
January 14, 2011
It is a pleasure to be here this morning to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I want to begin by taking a moment to thank Reverend Kenneth L. Barney, Minister Edward Lee, and everyone at the New Antioch Baptist Church for welcoming us as their guests today. I also want to thank the Milford Mill Concert Choir for lending their incredible talents to our ceremony.
On Monday, our nation will mark the twenty-fifth observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday. The day stands as a monument to the accomplishments of Dr. King and all those who dedicated their lives to ensuring that our country lives up to the true meaning of its creed - that all men and all women are created equal.
The work of the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement undoubtedly made our country a better place. Their sacrifices made America a place where no one can be treated as a second-class citizen under the law and every child can grow up knowing that one day he, or she, can become President. The importance of what Dr. King accomplished is nothing short of extraordinary, but what is most remarkable is how he accomplished it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929 and for almost his entire life, he was regularly denied the fundamental rights of American citizenship. For no other reason than the simple color of his skin, he could not vote, he could not sit in the front of the bus, and he could not even drink from the same water fountains as white people. Anger and hate would have been understandable reactions to such widespread injustice. However, Dr. King rose above that and worked to find a better way. Alongside countless others, he spoke out against the violence, oppression, and indecency that he and millions of his fellow Americans were forced to endure.
Inspired by his faith and the life and works of individuals such as Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. King helped put nonviolence squarely at the center of the Civil Rights movement. "Nonviolence," he said, "is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals." For almost his entire adult life, Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted ignorance, violence, and hate with nothing but patience and confidence that was rooted in the righteousness of his cause. With nothing more than an open hand and an open heart, he worked to overcome centuries of oppression and discrimination and heal the wounds that had been tearing this country apart since its very inception.
It has been almost 43 years since Dr. King was so cruelly taken from us, but his message of nonviolence resonates more than ever today. As we continue our journey into a century that he never lived to see himself, regrettably there are those who still seek to impose their will through violence and hatred. From New York to Virginia to Fort Hood to Tucson, acts of violence have shaken us to our very cores. However, we must resist the temptation to lash back; we must not let our anger or our grief overtake us. We must remember the words of Dr. King, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Throughout his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. was frequently faced with the very worst that people had to offer one another. Rather than give in, he responded with the very best that we as a people are capable of. Today, as we celebrate his life and his accomplishments, let us embrace his legacy as an example to help us drive out the darkness and drive out the hate that threatens to hold our nation back. Let us move forward into the brave, new future and make the dream that Martin Luther King had for his children not just our own dream, but a reality once and for all.
Revised April 6, 2016