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Legacy of MLK Jr. continues to live on

Our nation celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past Monday,

and many again paused to reflect upon the life and legacy of this

giant of the civil rights movement. The importance of Dr. King’s work

toward social justice is still felt today, as laws that prohibit

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discrimination in employment, education and housing have their

genesis in the movement he spearheaded. Indeed, his bold leadership

not only energized the poor and disenfranchised, but the force of his

charge forever changed the face of America.

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Dr. King was heavily influenced by the teachings of Gandhi and the

writings of Henry David Thoreau and, coupled with his strong

Christian faith, incorporated them into a philosophy of nonviolent

protest. “I came to feel that this was the only morally and

practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle

for freedom,” King said.

Following Rosa Park’s refusal to obey Alabama’s segregation laws

and subsequent arrest in 1955, Dr. King led bus boycotts that

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eventually led the Supreme Court to rule such laws unconstitutional.

In 1957, he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

to carry on the civil rights struggle. Two years later, he went to

India and returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor in his father’s

church. But it was in 1963 that he truly became part of the national

consciousness -- leading mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala., in

the face of police dogs and fire hoses, and delivering his rousing “I

Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in

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Washington, D.C.

His commitment to peaceful protest ultimately hastened the passage

of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By

the time of his death in 1968, he had already set in motion many

forces of social change. In the process of working to change

intolerant laws, he succeeded in moving us toward a more tolerant

society.

While in Atlanta a few years ago, I made sure to visit the Martin

Luther King Jr. National Historic Site to learn more about him and

pay tribute to this first and critical prong in the trident of social

justice (the other two being Robert F. Kennedy and Cesar E. Chavez.)

Nestled within a few blocks of each other are several points of

interest: Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both his grandfather and

father were pastors and he was a co-pastor; the Visitor Center that

ends its tour with a Freedom Road exhibit and boasts a large statue

of Gandhi outside its doors; and The King Center, which is a living

memorial dedicated to preserving and advancing his civil and human

rights work.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day let us think about his charge to build

a better world and reminded us to continue to do our part to improve

the lot of others. The life of this civil rights leader, minister and

Nobel Peace Prize winner demands nothing less and calls for much,

much more. Dr. King’s legacy still inspires.

EDWARD HEADINGTON

Burbank


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