Freedom: The Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., champion of human rights. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., champion of human rights.

January 17, 2011, marks the 25th anniversary the first observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a U.S. federal holiday.

Dr. King was a driving force for nonviolent activism in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  From 1957 to 1968, he traveled 6 million miles, gave 2,500 speeches and led peaceful pickets, protests and marches that opened the eyes of the world to injustices in America.  Through leadership positions in the NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King's actions were instrumental in gaining passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, the same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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On August 28, 1963, at the close of a peaceful march in Washington of more than 250,000, Dr. King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  

"It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment," he said. "There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges."

Emphasizing the importance of a peaceful resolution to these urgent social issues, Dr. King continued: "We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

He is probably best remembered for his passionate call to America to be true to her most fundamental ideals: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"

Dr. King inspired an entire nation to live up to its potential, closing with these words: "From every mountainside, let freedom ring.  And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

In keeping with the legacy of Dr. King, the holiday honoring his birth is a day of service, where Americans from every walk of life contribute their time in the name of a better future for all.