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Berger’s Burg: Dr. King’s legacy endures for all Americans

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who wore many hats throughout his life. He was a clergyman, civil rights leader, scholar, and charismatic and articulate spokesman for human rights. He borrowed and transformed the grand tradition of protest practiced earlier by Mahatma Gandhi, the renowned Indian leader who taught nonviolent and peaceful means to protest inequities.Using this method, King was in the forefront of demonstrations challenging established practices and customs that violated human rights. He became involved with injustices in employment, voting procedure, housing, civil rights and individual freedoms. He helped redefine America's approach to human rights in such a way that its ripples are still being felt today.This civil-rights advocate, born peacefully in the heart of segregated Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929, died violently on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. Throughout his all-too-short life, he sought to bring people together rather than divide them. Ironically, he was gunned down heading a nonviolent demonstration of striking sanitation workers. His storied life is remembered by peoples of all races and creeds, 40 years after his death.King had graduated cum laude from Morehouse College at the age of 19, earned a bachelor of divinity degree at Crozer Theological Seminary and then went on for a Ph.D at Boston University. With academia completed, he was prepared to embark on a crusade to battle segregation.Employing only peaceful means, King began challenging traditions and customs that violated human rights. His most famous demonstration was the march against segregation on public buses in Montgomery, Ala. At the time, blacks in his home territory were required to ride in the rear of buses. After a year of very difficult but peaceful demonstrations, blacks were finally given the right to ride the buses on a nonsegregated basis for the first time. His challenges had taught America the power of organization and the dignity of nonviolence.For his nonviolent activities, King was thrown into jail more than 30 times. He was also subjected to beatings and verbal abuse. Nonetheless, he felt no bitterness or hate toward his tormentors. Instead, he preached the motto, "Let no man drag you so low as to hate." At the age of 35, he was the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in civil rights.On Aug. 28, 1963, King expressed his aspirations eloquently in one of his most impressive and inspiring speeches, "I Have A Dream." He said, "I dream of the time when the evils of prejudice and segregation will vanish." This speech prompted Congress in July 1964 to pass a sweeping civil rights bill introduced by President John F. Kennedy before his death.King's legacy remains strong these many years following his assassination. MLK Day offers many people of all diversity an opportunity to remember his powerful efforts on their behalf. Besides being involved in the civil rights struggle of blacks, he also championed Jewish causes at critical moments.In the 1960s, he "urged the Soviet government to end all their discriminatory measures against its Soviet Jewry." With Israel threatened by its Arab neighbors, he wrote that "Israel's right to exist as a state in security is incontestable." Ten days before his death in 1968, the Nobel Peace laureate referred to Israel as "one of the great outposts of democracy in the world. We must stand with all our might to protect Israel's territorial integrity and its right to exist."King denounced anti-Semitism in this country and abroad, saying, "The segregationists and racists make no distinction between the Negro and the Jew." In retrospect, his adoption of Jewish discriminatory causes was not surprising. He preached that the freedom of blacks was inextricably tied to the universal rights of all groups to live free from oppression. The civil rights champion would have been proud to see Condoleeza Rice, a friend of one of the young girls who died in a notorious Alabama church bombing, become America's second black secretary of state, succeeding Colin Powell, the first black man to hold that office. So, on this MLK Day, take a moment to reflect on how far the nation has come, and how far it still has to go.Dr. King, you made a grateful America a better place to live.

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