2010-01-13 / Editorials

King’s Legacy Lives On, In U.S. And Around The World

Eighty-one years ago last Friday, a baby boy was born in a second-floor bedroom in a house in Atlanta, Georgia. Martin Luther King Jr. would go on to become an ordained Baptist minister with a doctoral degree, come to prominence by leading the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott in 1955 at the age of 26, make his seminal “I Have A Dream” speech on the March on Washington in 1963 and be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Four years later, an assassin’s bullet would end his life on the balcony of a Memphis, Tennessee motel room on Apr. 4, 1968.

King started his career battling segregation mostly in southern states, but his efforts to secure civil rights for all brought benefits to every American. In only one example, Borough President Helen Marshall is the first African American to hold the office of Queens borough president and the second woman to do so. Marshall and her predecessor, Claire Shulman, would be the first to acknowledge that Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work opened the door of opportunity in the field of elected public office wider for them and for thousands of other people of both genders and every conceivable ethnic background. New York state has its first black governor, David Paterson, and the United States achieved a historic milestone in 2008 by electing Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president. Nor were barriers breached by African-Americans alone: this past November, John Liu, from 2002 the first Asian-American elected to the New York City Council, was elected city comptroller, becoming the first Asian- American to hold citywide elected office. Jose Peralta remains the first Hispanic American elected to the New York state Assembly; Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada (The Bronx) are state senators. Martin Luther King Jr. paved the way for them.

King’s legacy also lives on in the methods on non-violent conflict resolution he promulgated in his quest for equality and social justice for all Americans—methods that people in other countries use as well. As King noted, they may take longer to come to fruition, but as his own experiences and those of countless others have demonstrated repeatedly, they have proven successful and more lasting than violence and hatred. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy has led us on the first small steps to a world where, indeed, all people may be judged,“not for the color of their skin”, nor for their gender, nationality or religious beliefs, but indeed, “for the content of their character”.

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