Berger’s Burg: Paying homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

In 1983, Congress established the third Monday in January as a federal holiday, to take effect in 1986, in honor of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. This tribute was created so homage could be paid to a great American who brought leadership and continuity to the civil rights movement.

Do your work so well that no one could do it better. Do it so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to say — here lived a man who did his job as if God almighty called him at this particular time in history to do it.

On Jan. 21, we celebrate the 73rd year of this charismatic and articulate spokesman’s birth, although he was actually born on Jan. 15. To many historians, Dr. King was the most important public figure to emerge from the deep South during the past century. By helping to destroy segregation in his home territory, he redefined America’s approach to human rights.

We must either learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Dr. King, clergyman, civil rights leader, humanitarian and a man of peace, was born peacefully in 1929, but ironically, lost his life violently in 1968. He led a brilliant, influential life, albeit an all too shortened one. I followed many of his battles against injustice since his beginnings.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Quite a few summers ago, I worked with a person who had been a classmate of King’s at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He often spoke of Dr. King during their collegiate days together and these conversations gave me a fascinating glimpse into Dr. King’s profound personality. He possessed an iron will, was very disciplined, and had an undivided dedication to the objectives he was undertaking. These characteristics helped him meet, complete and overcome seemingly impossible tasks.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

This co-worker recalled the long days he observed Dr. King, the student, meticulously wade through an entire Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, word by word, page by page, studying the definition of every word listed. Alphabetically and systematically, he etched the meanings of the hundreds of words into his memory bank. When asked why he did this, Dr. King replied that he was preparing himself to become a better speaker, a better writer and, above all, to gain the knowledge that the impossible is possible with a little perseverance and lots of faith. To this day, I still marvel at his tenacity.

If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

As an aspiring writer myself, I tried the same tactic and once opened a Webster’s abridged dictionary. However, I wearily dropped out after reaching the word “agaric.” I since have forgotten what that word meant. I realized then and there that I did not possess Dr. King’s stick-to-it-ness. It was this unshaking fortitude that shaped Dr. King’s goals and accomplishments, and explains why he is admired long after his death by so many people today.

There is nothing in all the world greater than freedom. It is worth paying for, it is worth losing a job for, it is worth going to jail for.

Dr. King graduated from Morehouse College at the age of 19. Three years later, he earned a bachelor’s degree in divinity at Crozer Theological Seminary and in 1955 was awarded a Ph.D. at Boston University.

In justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

As a student Dr. King had been deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, the renowned, Indian pacifist. Gandhi taught nonviolent and peaceful means to protest evil. Dr. King borrowed and transformed this grand tradition of protest.

Our enemies would prefer to deal with a small armed group rather than a huge, unarmed, but resolute mass of people... Our powerful weapons are the voices and the bodies of dedicated, united people, moving without rest toward a just goal.

It wasn’t long before Dr. King was in the forefront of demonstrations challenging established traditions and customs that violated human rights. He became involved with injustices in employment, voting procedure, housing, civil rights, and individual freedoms.

We must speed up the coming of the inevitable. Now it is true... that Old Man Segregation is on his deathbed. But history has proven that social systems have a great last-minute breathing power, and the guardians of a status quo are always on hand with the oxygen tents to keep the old order alive.

During Dr. King’s illustrative career, he always tried to bring people together rather than to divide them. Togetherness and love for one another was his theme. On April 4, 1968, an assassin’s bullet ended his life in Memphis at the age of 39. Ironically, he was shot while in that city to lead a nonviolent demonstration of striking sanitation workers.

When I go, 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 love and serve humanity. Just say I was a drum major for justice; a drum major for peace who tried to make of this old world a New World.

Our country lost a great leader. Hmm! If he were alive today, I wonder how Dr. King would have handled Osama bin Laden.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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