When we honor Dr. King, we must recognize that his message extended beyond the “I Have a Dream” speech. He fought for jobs, justice and peace for all people. He took on the North’s dehumanizing forms of segregation, and marched with garbage collectors, autoworkers, Teamsters, and other organized labor groups to demand fair pay and dignity for workers of all races. He organized protests to end the era’s bloody wars, and fought for the rights denied to gays and lesbians. Dr. King’s dedication to speaking truth to power on unpopular issues earned him powerful enemies and caused controversy long after his death.
When I introduced the MLK holiday bill in the days following his assassination, his opponents sought to undermine the effort by pointing to his stance on the Vietnam War and accusing him of being un-American. The power of Dr. King’s message could not be denied, and slowly but surely, support for a federal holiday in his honor grew into the millions. In 1982, Stevie Wonder and Coretta Scott King presented Congress with six million signatures collected in support of the holiday. Finally, in 1983, fifteen years after Dr. King’s assassination and twenty years after the March on Washington, Congress passed the legislation with a vote of 338 to 90 in the House on August 3, and a vote of 78 to 22 in the Senate on October 19. That November, President Reagan signed Public Law 98-144 into law.
Dr. King’s quotes pepper nearly every politician’s rhetoric, but I hope that the new memorial will rekindle our nation’s reverence of not just Dr. King’s words, but his works. As the Memorial, stark and bold in its beauty, opens at the end of a summer filled with political acrimony, casualties from two wars, and millions of Americans out of work, I hope it will remind our great country of the dream for which Dr. King gave his life and the work that remains to realize it.
More from The Hill:
♦ Rep. Hastings: The struggle continues for King's dream
♦ Rep. Meeks: Making the dream a reality
♦ Rep. Rangel: The dream lives on
♦ Rep. Clay: A memorial is not enough
♦ Rep. Clarke: Continuing to build the dream
♦ Rep. Carson: A renewed call to positive action
♦ Rep. Bishop: Reflections on Dr. King's memorial
♦ Austin: Remembering the March for Jobs and Freedom