"I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin."
These famous and revered words spoken by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, told of the dream he had, one that has been carried throughout time. We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic "March on Washington" civil rights rally. We recommitted ourselves to the basic civil rights outlined by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others on that summer day in 1963. We continue to celebrate the man, who stood at the Lincoln Memorial and spoke eloquently in the cause for freedom and equality.
As we celebrate this federal holiday honoring Dr. King on Monday, January 20, there are a few things that have helped me better come to know this great man and the contributions he made to society.
His name was originally Michael, not Martin. His father, also Michael King, made a trip to Germany where he changed his name to honor the historic German theologian, Martin Luther. When Michael King changed his name, the decision continued to change his son's name as well.
the age of 19, King Jr. had received a bachelor's degree in sociology. He did this by skipping two grades in high school and entering college at the young age of 15 in 1944.
After he graduated from college, King Jr. had serious doubts about the Bible and Christianity in general. He told his father, a Baptist minister, that he would rather become a doctor or a lawyer. After more consideration, he later decided the bible had "many profound truths which one cannot escape" and chose to become a minister at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He graduated with his PhD at the age of 25.
Although King Jr. received straight A's, was the valedictorian of his class and the student body president, during his first year at seminary, he got a C in public speaking. For one who is remembered for being an amazing public speaker, it is an interesting case for the professor to give that grade, even when his father noted King Jr. was one of the best public speakers he'd seen.
King Jr. was the youngest male to win a Nobel Peace Prize until two years ago. Winning it in 1964 at the age of 35, King Jr. donated all of the $54,123 in award funds (about $400,000 today) to the Civil Rights movement.
To date, over 700 streets in the United States are named after this great man, with at least one such street in almost every major city. This is also not to mention the schools, buildings and other monuments named after him. Most recently, a memorial to King Jr. was opened to the public. This 30-foot sculpture on the National Mall is the first to honor an African American and person who did not serve as president. This is a testament to the man he was, the values he stood for, and the legacy he left behind.
Although King Jr.'s speech was the last to be delivered on that day in 1963, it is one of the best remembered. I hope we can all gather Monday to celebrate the life and enduring legacy of this great man, and reflect on the tremendous sacrifices and remarkable contributions he made in honor of freedom, justice and equal opportunity for every American.