1/15/2017 A message from Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.: The legacy of Dr. King: A light in darkness
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is pictured in an undated file photo. The nation honors the legacy of the slain civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate with a national holiday, observed Jan. 16 this year. CNS file photo
Civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. talks with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law July 2, 1964. CNS photo/Yoichi Okamoto, courtesy LBJ Library
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.
For generations born after his tragic death in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., is another honored name in American history books. By 1986, our country celebrated his legacy for the advancement of civil rights by creating a national holiday to be observed annually on the third Monday of January, close to his birthday on the 15th of the month. The passage of time has served to solidify his memory as one of the truly great Americans of the 20th century.
For those of us whose lifetime coincided with his almost 40 years, it is difficult to believe that the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis will be commemorated next year. His advocacy does not mark the beginning of the history of the American civil rights movement and his untimely death, thankfully, did not establish its end. Our nation still has a long way to go to reach the goals that he advanced. But I believe it is right to say that the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., represented and continues to represent a turning point in our nation's struggle for the non-violent resolution of the racial tensions that still plague American society.
From his birth in Atlanta in 1929 when the color of one's skin marked the dividing line between full freedom and equality and social and economic oppression in our country, through his life's steadily progressing commitment to human rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s biography tells the sad and often violent tale of the toll that racial segregation took upon our nation's citizens and their slow march toward equality. He never wavered or hesitated in that march.
An assassin's bullet silenced his voice decades ago but who can ever forget his eloquence or the courage of his convictions translated into words oft repeated to this very day. "I have a dream," he once preached, "that all God's children ... would sing ... 'free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm free at last'," --- a dream that many shared and share; a dream that endures.
A national holiday is not the real measure of the man celebrated by its occurrence, nor are the few paragraphs written in a history book. No, it is, rather, a full life lived --- no matter how long or short; a full life remembered for the difference it made; a full life that opened doors to what could be, what should be for those with the courage to pass through. Dr. King said it himself, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood tall in those challenging times and in American history. May he continue to inspire us in the times in which we live.