On this day, we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, a controversial and transformational figure in American history. When I think about Dr. King, I think about the unmatched oratory of the famous “I have a dream” speech and his message of loving and accepting people for who they were. I remember his life ending on April 4, 1968 and my outrage that this man, who preached non-violence, had his life ended by a violent act. I also remember my difficulty in comprehending that many people chose to express their feelings about this awful event through more violence.
Change comes slowly. The call for a national holiday in honor of Dr. King was finally answered when President Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, 15 years after the assassination. The first observance came in 1986, but it was not officially observed by all 50 states until 2000.
I would like to think that as a society we are more open and more accepting as the legacy of Dr. King’s message. But there is still work to do on so many fronts related to peace and justice for all. Much of that work will be difficult and will take time; however, we must commit to making progress. As Dr. King said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
One thing we all can do is to strive to choose the path of love. Choose love not only over hate but over fear. In Dr. King’s words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” When there is a choice, choose love. That is a way to honor Dr. King not just today, but everyday.
According to the Constitution, a president is sworn in by taking the oath of office on January 20 of the year following the November presidential election. This year, with January 20 falling on the Sunday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior holiday weekend, it was determined that the President Obama and Vice-President Biden would be officially sworn in on January 20th in private ceremonies, with the public celebrations taking place on the holiday honoring Dr. King.
Many have noted that President Obama appears to feel a strong kinship with the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Both have roots in Illinois; both were elected with little experience on the national level; both were renowned for their speaking skills; and both have faced extreme national crises, with resolution and determination to achieve the best possible outcome.
Obama’s success is yet to be determined. But as he takes the oath of office for the second time, he ties himself once again to Lincoln by using the same Bible used for Lincoln’s first inauguration in 1861, as Obama did for his own first inauguration. In addition, Obama will be using a second Bible at today’s ceremonies: one known as the “traveling Bible” used by Dr. King.
Through their deeds, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King moved mountains. Our country today faces many mountains. Let us hope that President Obama has the courage, determination, and wisdom to make those mountains move. He is president of all Americans, no matter what our political persuasion, and so it is a day to rejoice in the glory and possibilities of our democracy. Let freedom ring!