Visionary Leader

HE HAD a dream.

Today, America commemorates the life and recognizes the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. He was a pastor, a visionary and above all a leader.

His struggle for peace and justice in the name of civil rights reform earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, which he accepted as its youngest recipient at age 35 in 1964.

His campaigns against discrimination, inequality and segregation shed a light across the nation and around the world on the social divides that led to oppression and held America back on its promise of freedom. He demonstrated how effective unity for a cause and non-violent protests could be when it was time to stand up for your beliefs, take action and set a nation on track for a long overdue change.

King’s leadership in the civil rights movement began with the Montgomery bus boycott, shortly after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama in late 1955.

His endeavors in the years that followed not only exposed issues of injustice, but also helped to have old laws that perpetuate inequality thrown out and have new laws that protect the rights of everyone introduced.

Through the leadership of King and the efforts of many others, a tense period in American history led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Although he was able to accomplish so much, King lived a short life. It was cut short, ironically, by violence. He was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39.

Had he lived beyond that day, he would have undoubtedly continued his work. If he was alive today, he would see that there is still work to be done.

One of King’s most poignant moments came in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial during the March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There, before a crowd of 250,000, King eloquently delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in the shadow of the statue of Abraham Lincoln marking the 100-year anniversary of the end of slavery through the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

That electrifying speech, along with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, are widely regarded as the two greatest speeches in American history.

King’s struggle, at its core, was for equal rights for African Americans. His legacy transcends to all Americans.

On Martin Luther King Day, let his words, his lesson and his legacy inspire you.