Monday, Jan. 20 is the national holiday honoring the birth, life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King would have turned 91 this year, on Jan. 15, had he not been shot and killed while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. King dodged many serious threats to his life and to his family during the nearly two decades long national civil rights movement he led. The violence targeted against him neither deterred him nor dissuaded him from his commitment and advocacy of non-violence as the most effective tactic available to achieve civil and human rights against a racist and violent culture here in America.
King said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” And no matter how vicious the acts, from the bombing of his home in Atlanta, Georgia, to the moment a deranged woman stabbed him in the chest, so close to his aorta that a simple sneeze could have ended his life, to the daily consequences of acting boldly to improve the quality of life for Black and poor people, King lingered on a tight rope between life and death every single day.
His message worked while he was alive, despite naysayers who strongly opposed taking the non-violent route to make change. Thousands marched and withstood violent attacks while riding buses or sitting at lunch counters only seeking to be treated fairly and equally. But when King was killed, violently, his message was not strong enough to stage off a violent response to his death.
The messenger is gone, and today there are few whose words resonate like King’s in a world that is becoming increasingly violent and devoured with extremism and anti-everybody across nations and in local communities.
While many have attempted to pick up Dr. King’s mantel, evidence shows that it has been too heavy a burden for most to carry. But we must. We, the people, must use the tools we have to keep America moving forward, not backward. We must register, we must vote, and we must speak loudly about what must happen to fulfill the dream of an America described passionately by Dr. King before he died. Do not let his living nor his words die in vain.