Civil Rights

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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.  


Reflections on the national memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As final preparations get underway for the dedication of the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall, it is important that we all reflect upon and applaud the many outstanding achievements of this great American patriot and iconic humanitarian. With his life he proved that non-violence is an effective way of perfecting social change. His leadership helped propel our nation from the dark and regressive grips of the Jim Crow era to a more enlightened period where the goals of achieving equal opportunity and respect for universal human rights are now becoming more intricately woven into our society. 

The August 28, 2011 unveiling ceremony of the memorial will mark the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the historic March on Washington in 1963. This speech and Dr. King’s unyielding commitment to service have been sources of inspirational motivation for me from the time I met him during my freshman year at Morehouse College, through law school, my years in the Georgia state legislature and throughout my tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives.


Congress must address employment-based Green Card backlog

As a legal immigrant trapped in a Green Card backlog that may affect more than 500,000 immigrants and American businesses, I have seen firsthand the need for Congress to clear this backlog to maintain our nation’s economic competitiveness.

Every year, only 140,000 Green Cards are available for highly-skilled immigrant employees sponsored by a U.S. employer. Despite the critical role these legal immigrants play with respect to innovation, entrepreneurship and domestic job creation, the employment-based Green Card system represents only 16 percent of all Green Cards issued every fiscal year. Within this annual cap exists a seven percent country limit, which provides the same number of Green Cards to immigrants from India, one of the world’s most populous countries, as Iceland, one of the world’s smallest nations.


"Keep our communities safe act" takes the wrong approach

Two weeks ago, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill entitled the “Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011” (H.R. 1932). The bill is supposedly aimed at reducing crimes allegedly committed by immigrants who have been ordered removed from the United States but who cannot be deported because no country will accept them. 

While there is little to suggest that the bill would actually accomplish this goal, there is a great deal to suggest that the bill would result in a system of indefinite detention for individuals who pose no danger to society. Moreover, the bill empowers government officials to unilaterally determine who should be subject to this prolonged detention, all the while making it more difficult for persons covered by it to challenge their detention before a neutral decision-maker.


Tipping point for LGBT equality

We have reached a tipping point in our fight for equality in America. Forty-two years after the Stonewall riots - a defining moment in the beginning of America’s gay rights movement -  New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage and California’s mandate to teach lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) history in grade schools, bring this country closer to a more equal society.

In my decade in Congress, the gay community and its allies have fought numerous battles and this double victory shows we have not fought in vain. Both California and New York, with their own rich history of LGBTQ activism, have taken courageous steps towards equality. I commend Governors Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo for answering the calls of their constituents.  I am also proud of the progress made in Congress including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and movement towards the Defense of Marriage Act repeal. The fact that the Pentagon announced this week that the U.S. military is prepared to accept openly gay and lesbian service members, and doing so will not harm military readiness, is great news. Yet, I know this is not enough.