Keeping the Dream Alive: How Dr. King’s Legacy of
Service Lives On
Humble beginnings do not limit what a person can
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a testament to the
revolution that one man can create. King is best known for his charismatic
leadership and activism during the Civil Rights Movement. While he preached
justice and worked to achieve racial integration, he also promoted peace and
sought to end poverty.
Despite his prominence, there is nothing
remarkable from King’s formative years to suggest he would become the Nobel
Peace Prize-winning leader he was. Yet, he has become a legend. King’s legacy
lives on through the work carried out by many different leaders in public service. His name rings on the lips of school children, and streets
in cities large and small are named for him.
King was one of the most influential leaders of his
time. His passion for the common good, his peaceful tendencies, and the legacy of
public service he left behind can inspire anyone who is ready to make a
Beginnings to a Community Leader
Raised in Atlanta, Georgia, King’s family’s
involvement in the Baptist Church spurred him to embrace faith and religious leadership.
His belief in God led him, and his congregation, to identify with a spirit of
Before his graduation from Morehouse College,
King was not only ordained, but he also had his first taste of peaceful activism.
His commitment to both religious faith and peaceful activism remained with him
throughout his life. Although he moved cautiously at first, King became a
central figurehead, around whom people gathered to effect peaceful change. He
was known for his ability to garner support from a multitude of organizations, from
reform groups to labor unions. His inspirational words delivered at the 1963 March
on Washington for Jobs and Freedom have
become an everlasting symbol for equality throughout the world.
As legal and legislative progress was made, such
as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the following year, King
expanded his scope of focus. From anti-segregationist and civil rights activism,
he moved towards economic concerns and militaristic issues. He spoke out against
America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and he crossed racial boundaries to focus
on the plight of sanitation workers in Memphis.
King’s life was often threatened, and he was
arrested several times, but his commitment to public service never faltered. While
protesting the segregationist policies of the Montgomery buses, his home was
bombed several times, and at a 1958 book signing, he was stabbed with a letter opener.
Dr. King’s public image and influence shifted
over time. The militaristic drives of Malcolm X gained popularity as the
oppressed grew weary of the slow developments delivered through peaceful marches
and King’s "love thy neighbor” rhetoric. King, himself, was torn between the differing
extremes in approach. Although he refused to organize and allow marches to
continue without court approval, they sometimes turned violent, often leading
to his arrest.
On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated at the
Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, while preparing his next sermon. Although
his death cut short his involvement in the struggle, King’s legacy lives on as
a shining example of the strides an individual activist can make. Most people
can see the effect of King’s public service in their everyday lives. His vision
was immense, and the issues that he tackled were fundamental.
A Day of
Commitment and Service
To recognize the work of King and his legacy,
the US government designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. In
2014, we will celebrate the work and commitment of Dr. King on January 20th.
While the date changes annually, it always falls on a Monday so that Americans can
honor King’s memory through volunteer efforts and community involvement.
The official website for Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides a list of public
service initiatives in every area of the country. Whatever your public service
passion, you can participate. Led by motivated individuals and committed
communities, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an opportunity for individuals to
give back. Make this year the year that you make a difference in your community.