King Jr. History And Heritage Benefit All
This coming Sunday, January 15, will mark the 83rd anniversary of the birth in Atlanta, Georgia of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. King’s legacy includes the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, his “I Have A Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., the 1965 voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama and a Nobel Peace Prize. An assassin’s bullet ended his life on the balcony of a Memphis, Tennessee motel room on Apr. 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.
Some schools, libraries, streets and other endeavors nationwide were named for King. The house where he was born in Atlanta, including several adjacent structures and the tomb of King and his widow, Coretta Scott King, was named a National Historic Site in 1980 and he is the only African American to have a monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., but otherwise there are few physical monuments to the ordained Baptist minister with a PhD from Boston University. His legacy lives on in ways that perhaps not even he could have foreseen.
Although King started his career battling segregation mostly in southern states, his efforts to secure civil rights for all brought benefits to every American. In 2008 we elected African American Barack Obama president of the United States. The Obama administration has women cabinet officers, the ranks of the United States Supreme Court include a Black and a Hispanic Justice, the latter also a female. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall is the first African American to hold the office of Queens borough president and the second woman to do so. The 55th governor of New York state, David Paterson, the first African American to hold that office, served from 2008 to 2010. On the “rising tides lifts all boats” premise, John Liu, in 2002 the first Asian- American elected to the New York City Council, became the first Asian-American to hold citywide elected office as Comptroller in 2010. Jose Peralta remains the first Hispanic American elected to the New York state Assembly. Martin Luther King Jr. laid the groundwork that made their achievements possible.
King’s life and work helped to make Queens the most ethnically diverse county in the United States, a distinction of which we can and should be justly proud. Moreover, all Americans, whatever their ethnic background, have more opportunities to realize their full potential today, some 44 years after King’s death, because this Baptist preacher from Atlanta led the way. Next Sunday, his actual birthday, and on the national holiday that follows on Monday, let us pause and appreciate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Because of him, whatever our background, all of us have a better chance at being all that we can be.