Civil Rights

A monument to hope, a call to action

Every monument in our nation's capital symbolizes something meaningful about our national character. Lincoln, presiding over the Reflecting Pool, reminds us of our commitment to overcoming division and guaranteeing equal protection under law. Jefferson, set against the Tidal Basin, symbolizes our steadfast belief in inalienable individual rights. The WWII memorial, sitting in the center of the Mall, depicts our triumph against fascism and our readiness to stand watch against tyranny and injustice.

Martin Luther King was neither a president nor a war hero. The namesake of our newest monument was, for most of his life, a humble preacher forced to live as an outsider in his own community. Yet, with his charismatic voice, visionary leadership, and indefatigable spirit, he symbolized what I believe is most central to our national character: hope.

Read More...

Celebrating and remembering Dr. King's dream

My active entry into the civil rights movement came far later than I would have liked.

Ensconced in a Catholic University for women in the Midwest, the opportunity to march, to go to jail, to stand up for what was right and to risk harm was so very far away from my reality--if not from my yearnings at the time. Today, after joining demonstrations against the Vietnam War and going on at least four civil rights pilgrimages to Alabama, I wonder if I would have had the courage, determination and faith that young and old displayed during those historic times. I have the most profound respect and gratitude for all of them.

Apart from my prayers and identification with those who were there, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, his persona, his words, his teachings, his courage, his conviction and his commitment were more than an inspiration, they were a Call to Action for me, as for so many others.

Read More...

The struggle continues for King's dream

Today, when the term “civil rights” appears to be an old-fashioned concept and the ideology of post-racialism penetrates the minds of many Americans, it is only proper to pause and recognize moments in history that remind us not only of how far we have come, but of how the fight for equality still continues.

I was born in 1936 and raised in Altamonte Springs, Fla. I remember clearly the day the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which ended school segregation in our nation. I was beginning high school then and had to ride a bus for three hours every morning to get to the all-black Crooms Academy High School in Sanford, Fla. With this landmark case, we saw the start of a social transformation in our country.

Read More...

Remembering Martin Luther King and the March for Jobs and Freedom

With the formal unveiling of the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King on August 28 – the anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – the National Mall will house a memorial to a man who never held the nation’s highest office but brought it closer to its highest ideals.

Together with the national celebration of his birthday, the commemoration of the march and the quotation of his speeches, the new memorial ensures that Dr. King will be remembered. But will he be remembered rightly, not only as the subject of a monument but also as the leader of a movement for “jobs and freedom”?

Dr. King’s commitment to jobs and justice lasted a lifetime and cost him his life. During his last year on earth, Dr. King organized a “Poor People’s Campaign” for economic opportunity for all Americans. And he was assassinated while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

Read More...

King memorial should bring renewed attention to call for continuous, positive action

It’s not often four words change a nation’s course. Yet that is precisely what happened on August 28, 1963. Standing in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln before 250,000 people who had marched to the Washington, D.C. mall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. galvanized the civil rights movement and inspired a generation by uttering the immortal words - “I have a dream.”

For many, Dr. King’s name evokes first and foremost his incredible oratory. But Dr. King was so much more than eloquent words with unparalleled persuasive force. 

Dr. King was our national conscience. He shook all Americans from their inertia and parochialism with a simple pronouncement that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He rightly chided us to be mindful of our “inescapable network of mutuality.” Despite being confronted with often-ruthless hatred, Dr. King remained a loving example of non-violence, thereby elevating spiritually all who toiled with him while winning unexpected converts to equality’s cause. And, perhaps most critically, by advocating decent wages, working conditions, and the right of all people to organize, Dr. King awoke America to the reality that true racial equality grows from economic advancement.

Read More...

Remembering Dr. King's dream of jobs, justice and peace

The dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial provides an opportunity to reflect and rededicate ourselves to Dr. King’s work. The ceremony on August 28 will serve as a homecoming for the generations of Americans, and indeed people of every nation, who heeded Dr. King’s call to believe, work, and dream of justice and equality. We will gather to honor the sacrifices of all those millions who have marched, bled, and died – including Dr. King – in the struggle for equality and equal justice under law.

Part of the greatness of Dr. King was his ability to convert a mass political movement into an opportunity for an individual awakening. As a young lawyer in Detroit, he inspired me to go south to join the crusade against Jim Crow segregation. It was through this work that I first met Rosa Parks, who ultimately was forced to leave Montgomery after the successful bus boycott to seek better economic opportunity. Ms. Parks joined my first campaign for Congress, and I was honored when she helped secure an endorsement from Dr. King, one of the few he ever made.

Read More...

Continuing to build the dream: Anticipating the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial

To some Americans, August 28 would seemingly be just another ordinary day. However, history marked this day in 1963 as the day when one of the most profound, forward-thinking speeches in modern day history was delivered to our nation and to the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prominent voice in the civil rights and human rights movement gave his prophetic “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This speech not only instilled hope for racial equality and justice in America, it provided a vision that challenged the prevailing views, the status quo of the time, and provided a new vision of peace and prosperity for all.

Now, on the 48th anniversary of this great speech, our nation will honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic role in changing our nation by unveiling the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. This historic monument is a manifestation of Dr. King’s image carved in stone that will remind our nation of not only how far we have come, but how far we must to go in fulfilling the dream of which Dr. King so eloquently spoke.

Read More...

Dedicating a memorial to Dr. King is not enough

Recently, I was fortunate to join with some of my colleagues from the Congressional Black Caucus on a preview tour of the new national monument commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Obama will dedicate the new King Memorial on August 28th, which is also the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream Speech” during the 1963 March on Washington.

Located on the National Mall, Dr. King’s magnificent likeness looks out on our nation’s capitol with a powerful gaze that transcends generations to remind us that while his dream transformed America, much work remains to be done in order to finish the mission for which he ultimately gave his life.

Read More...

The dream lives on

Forty-eight years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver his inspirational "I Have a Dream" speech which paved the way for America to embrace people of all backgrounds, regardless of color, religion, and gender. This Sunday, we will celebrate the unveiling of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial at 1964 Independence Avenue, which honors Dr. King's role in establishing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his fight to make equality in America a reality for everyone.

I am fortunate that I was able to witness the bold struggle to change our country when I marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. I recall the days when people of color and certain backgrounds were denied entry into restaurants, hotels, bathrooms and even access to drinking fountains. Innocent kids were denied the right to attend schools because of the color of their skin. Yet there were courageous men and women who helped lead our country on the path of equality and justice, including Rosa Parks who refused to sit in the back of the bus and inspired more blacks to stand up for their rights. Upon her death in 2005, Rosa Parks was the first woman to be granted the posthumous honor of lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda. 

Read More...

Making the dream a reality

When it was only a proposal, the notion of a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall was exhilarating as to me as the campaign to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday had been for me in the 1970s when I was a student at Howard Law School.  Along with many of my classmates, I collected signatures and attended the annual marches led by Stevie Wonder and Rep. John Conyers, Jr., the legislation’s chief sponsor.  In 1983, it became so.  And in Jan. of 1986, the annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day began.

On Aug. 28, the anniversary date of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. King delivered his historic “I Have A Dream” speech – America will dedicate the King Memorial.  The permanence of this monument on the National Mall symbolizes the permanence of the monumental “stride toward freedom” our nation made under his leadership and continues, even today, to be inspired by his ideas and insights.

In my view, the King Memorial – more so than the other great Americans Dr. King will forever share the great expanse from the Capitol down past the White House all the way to the Tidal Basin and the edge of the Potomac River − has everything to do with America’s past, present, and future.  

Read More...

Pages