In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a law making Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday, to be observed annually, on the third Monday in January. As the holiday has come and gone once again, let us remember what Dr. King stood for and fought for. What can we all learn from the life of Dr. King?

John Blake with CNN recently reported on three key moments from King’s life.

  1. That King was a not just a civil rights leader but a human rights leader. While in jail having conversations and debates with white jailers, King explained that the same forces that oppress Negroes also oppress poor white people. Dr. King’s refusal to be just a black leader was reflected in a quote he often used: “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. …I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
  2. That Dr. King was tough and relentless. He preached about the value of blending love and toughness and not settling “for easy answers and half-baked solutions.” Regardless of how hard the fight seems, stay strong and keep working. After what seemed an uphill battle, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was finally passed and the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
  3. That King was known as a disrupter. He said, “We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to co-operate with that system, and hereby to become a participant in its evil.”

If we learn anything from Dr. King’s teaching, it is that he brought racial justice into the mainstream as a fundamental element of American democracy– capable of bridging racial and economic divides. Let’s not let our leaders forget– “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.