Today Gratz College joins America in celebrating Martin Luther King Day. Growing up I heard his speeches on television, watched him being attacked by police and arrested on the nightly news, and remember the horrible shock of his murder in 1968. A half century after his assassination the need to fulfill his message and his vision remains central to our nation.
Rev. King was the voice of righteousness and dignity in the face of prejudice and evil. Like the anti-Nazi leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed in 1945, like Elie Wiesel, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and then dedicated his life to reminding the world of the Holocaust, like Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid – Dr. King was always spoke truth to power. He was fearless and eloquent in answering hate with love and responding to violence with non-violence.
His August 1963 speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial still resonates with his passion for justice. His voice is as important today as it was a half century ago. It is worth recalling and remembering his call for justice, dignity, and freedom for all. We honor his memory, but we also honor his demand that America stand up its values. He reminded us all that America needed to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
The end of this speech remains as vital today as it was then.
“And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’"