Dr. King Memorial Symbolizes Best in America

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[Tribute To Martin Luther King, Jr.]

On August 28, 1963, the day of the March on Washington, all of the
platform speakers were invited to the White House to meet with President
John F. Kennedy.  A few months earlier I had made my very first trip to
the White House. I was only 23-years-old and also the brand-new
chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.  It was
amazing.  A week into my new job I was headed to the White House to meet
President Kennedy.

I was with five other great men, including Martin Luther King Jr., Roy
Wilkins, James Farmer, and Whitney Young, known as the Big Six leaders
of the movement.  There were many women who were instrumental to our
plans to march and many heroines of the movement, including Coretta
Scott King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height, Ella Baker and Diane
Nash.  However, as was customary in those times, none of them were in
the room that day.  We told President Kennedy the people could not wait
any longer.  We were planning to call on thousands to march on

President Kennedy was visibly concerned.  He was sitting in the Oval
Office in his rocking chair, and he began to rock a little more
briskly.  He was concerned about violence.  He wanted to cool down
rising tensions, but A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood
of Pullman Car Porters, the dean of our movement, and the visionary
behind the march assured him this would be a lawful, peaceful,
non-violent march.  I will never forget.  Randolph told him, we could
not wait any longer.  “Mr. President, he said, “if we cool down any more
we will be in a deep freeze.”

After the largest march Washington had ever seen, the President stood in
the door of his office relaxed and beaming.  He shook each hand and
said, “You did a good job.  You did a good job.”  But when he got to
Martin Luther King Jr. he said, “And you had a dream.”

King’s aspirations for this nation were “deeply rooted in the American
dream.”  And it is because of his unwavering commitment to the cause of
justice, the principles of peace and non-violent activism, because of
his insistence on the equal dignity of all humanity that he has found
his place on the National Mall.  Martin Luther King Jr. represents the
very best in America.  It was his moral voice that helped this nation
turn the corner and lay down the burden of a grave injustice.

Thus it is fitting and so appropriate that we honor Martin Luther King
Jr. in what I like to call “the frontyard of America”.  He must be
looked upon as one of the founders of the New America.  He must be
looked upon as one of the founders of a nation more prepared to meet its
highest destiny.  And that is why the image of this humble Baptist
minister from Atlanta, Georgia, a man who was never elected to any
public office, can be seen today standing on the National Mall between
the monuments to two great presidents—Abraham Lincoln and Thomas

We have come a great distance as a nation and as a people, but we still
have a great distance to go before we create what Dr. King called the
Beloved Community.  I define it as a society based on simple justice
that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.  The
struggle to build this kind of community does not last for one day, one
week, or one year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.  Each of us must
continue to do our part to help make this vision a reality.

President Obama is doing all he can to help build this sense of
community.  In the bluster of media hype and political rhetoric, the
substantive work President Obama has done to turn our economy around, to
assist everyday Americans during this time of financial crisis, and to
put people back to work has not gotten enough attention.  In his
humility this President has not trumpeted his success.   He has kept his
eyes focused on the challenges at hand, trying to use his power to do
what he believes is in the best interest of the American people.

Perhaps you remember his demand that we expand and extend unemployment
insurance to people who had been laid off.  Maybe you heard about his
loan modification programs which have offered relief to more than $2
million Americans who would have lost their homes.  He added $7.6
billion to the Hardest Hit Fund to help homeowners in the most dire
straits, and $7 billion for a program to stabilize neighborhoods
blighted by the foreclosure crisis.  These resources have been
invaluable to my district in Atlanta, one of the hardest hit in the
country.  Recently, the White House released a report, called "Creating
Pathways to Opportunity"
, that highlights the many initiatives this president has fought hard
to execute which strengthen the economy while protecting the most
vulnerable Americans.

With the help of a Democratic Congress, college students now have access
to affordable healthcare until they are 26.  The President doubled
their Pell Grant funding and has enacted 17 tax cuts to free small
businesses to be the engine of growth they had always been. President
Obama is trying to do his part to help build a Beloved Community.  We
have a great President in our midst who is trying to do the kind of good
that will last.  And if each of us will do our part to respect human
dignity, to speak up and speak out non-violently for the cause of
justice then we can all help build the Beloved Community, a nation and a
world society at peace with itself.

Congressman John Lewis is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th
congressional district and recipient of the 2010 Presidential Medal of

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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