(This speech was delivered on the PA system last year at my high school for this holiday by one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Roxanne Bedrossian. All credit for the compilation of these words belong to her.)Good morning!
On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the American colonists. In this document, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Yet slavery was practiced.
In July 1863, a few days after the battle of Gettysburg of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln began his Gettysburg Address by saying, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Yet segregation was practiced.
On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. would be born in Atlanta, Georgia. Little did his parents know on that day that their son would make a difference.
Yet African American troops who fought in World War II were separated from white troops.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to give up her seat on the public bus to a white man, which legally she was obligated to do. She was arrested and Martin Luther King, Jr. organized a 385 day peaceful boycott of the Montgomery public buses that put so much pressure on the city that racial segregation of Montgomery public buses finally came to an end.
Yet black and white children could not go to the same school in many places.
In 1959, Dr. King visited Mahatma Gandhi's family in India, where he was more inspired than ever to lead a non-violent revolution. After his visit, he said, "I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity."
Yet signs saying, "For whites only," were common in the south.
On August 28, 1963, Dr. King helped to organize the famous march on Washington where a quarter of a million Americans, 80% black and 20% white, listened to King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It was here that he proclaimed, "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."
Yet many black Americans were still not allowed to vote.
Nevertheless, hope began to grow that this nonviolent movement would reap results. Until eighteen days later, on September 15, 1963, four little black girls in Sunday school were killed by a bomb set off by KKK members. Many people began to question the effectiveness of Dr. King's nonviolent approach. Many expected him to change his tune. But no King. He delivered the eulogy at the girls' funerals, and rather than preach hatred and anger, he offered these words to the grieving families: "Your children did not live long, but they lived well. The quantity of their lives was disturbingly small, but the quality of their lives was magnificently big. They died within the sacred walls of the church after discussing a principle as eternal love."
The following year, in 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, at the age of thirty-five, making him the youngest person to ever receive that award.
However, on April 4, 1968, like those four little black girls, Dr. King's life was cut short by an assassin. King was thirty years old. Like those little girls, the quantity of his life was small, but the quality of his life was enormous.
King would have loved to have been at Washington, D.C. on January 20, 2009 when Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States. Obama was judged "not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character." That was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream.
So remember, death is very democratic: kings and beggars die, rich and poor die, old and young die, innocent and guilty die. It is our job to make sure that life is democratic too.
Happy Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday!