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Berger’s Burg: Civil rights, equality, peace were King’s goals

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A man had a dream and the dream was sublime.

It told of the end of a dastardly crime.

It told of the man, who looked and was shocked,

At lives that were shattered, and souls that were mocked.

The people had come regardless of will,

To a life that remained eternally still.

They sweated and suffered 'til "dawn's early light,"

But still no sign of the end of their plight.

This man with the dream, he worked and he prayed.

The struggle went on, his hopes did not fade.

From morn 'til night, he marched and he taught.

With spirit his weapon, he ferociously fought.

The time is now, but sadly that man is no more.

Will we really understand what he was fighting for?

William Turbin of Flushing wrote that poignant poem. He wrote it to honor an African-American leader who died almost 33 years ago in a fight for justice. Why, after so many years, does the memory of this charismatic and articulate spokesman still linger? And why is he still remembered by so many people of all races, creeds, and religions?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., clergyman, civil rights leader, and humanitarian, was born peacefully on Jan. 15, 1929 and died violently on April 4, 1968. He had a short, but fruitful and dramatic life. King fought for many civil-rights causes throughout the 1950s and '60s. His humanitarian deeds eventually blossomed in notoriety as he plunged, unafraid, into the struggle.

I recall a most memorable conversation I had with a former co-worker (in my other life) who had been a classmate of King at Morehouse College in Atlanta. This lunch-time chat with him gave me a glimpse into King's riveting personality: He possessed an iron will, a strong discipline, and had direct focus and vision. King's dedication to his objectives was remarkably strong; it's why he was able to take on and accomplish seemingly impossible missions.

The co-worker recalled that King, as a student, would go through the huge Webster's Unabridged Dictionary daily, page by page, studying the definitions of its words in succession. Alphabetically, and systematically, he would memorize the meaning of each word and used all the new ones for a full day until they came naturally to him. When he was asked why he did this, King simply replied that he was improving himself as a speaker, a writer, and above all, to prove to himself that the "impossible is possible" with perseverance and faith. I was impressed that he not only attempted, but also completed, such a gigantic task. As an aspiring writer, I tried doing the same thing a few years ago. However, I hopelessly dropped out without even getting through all the a's. I simply didn't have King's tenacity. It was this unshackling fortitude that shaped his goals and accomplishments, and why he still is revered by so many today.

In his youth, King had been impressed by Mahatma Gandhi, the renowned former leader of India. Gandhi taught the use of nonviolent and peaceful means to fight evil, and King adopted the technique. It wasn't long before he was in the forefront of battles challenging established traditions and customs that violated human rights, be they in employment, voting procedures, housing, or individual freedoms.

Perhaps King's most famous demonstration was the 1955-56 boycott he led of city buses in Montgomery, Alabama. All African-Americans in that city at the time were required to ride in the rear of the bus. The boycott, spurred by the arrest of Rosa Parks who, tired after a day of work, refused to go to the rear, was a watershed for the civil rights movement.

King was also instrumental in organizing voter registration for African-Americans in Selma, Alabama. For non-violent activities such as these, King was thrown into jail more than 30 times. He was also subjected to beatings and verbal abuse. Nonetheless, he held no bitterness or hate toward his tormentors, and he repeatedly preached, "Let no man drag you so low as to hate."

As a Baptist minister, King believed in the power of love, good will, and nonviolence. He had faith in democracy and, in 1964, at the age of 35, was the youngest person in history to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1963, Dr. King expressed his aspirations most eloquently in the inspiring "I Have A Dream" speech delivered before a biracial audience of 200,000 in Washington. This presentation prompted Congress, in July 1964, to pass a sweeping Civil Rights Act. During his life, King tried to bring people together rather than separate them. Togetherness and love for one another was his theme.

On April 4, 1968, when King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers (most of them African-Americans), an assassin's bullet ended his life at the age of 39.

He may have prophesied his fate that when he said before the trip to Memphis, "When I [die], don't bother to mention I have a Nobel Peace prize, for that doesn't matter. Don't bother to say I have three or four hundred other awards, for they don't matter either. Just say I tried to love somebody; say I tried to feed the hungry; I tried to serve humanity. Just say I was a drum major for peace who tried to make of this old world a new world."

We're still waiting for another great drum major to replace him.

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