01.19.07

Honoring the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in honor of Martin Luther King Day that we celebrated earlier this week. Americans celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King who would have turned 78 this month. While there is much left to be done, Dr. King's dream of a colorblind society is closer to reality this year than last.

Dr. King championed nonviolent resistance as a means to bring about fundamental change. He sought such change to bring about equality between peoples of all races, an end to segregation and racial injustice and improved working conditions for all.

Dr. King was a master of rhetoric, and he used his power to bring together Americans from a variety of backgrounds to march in pursuit of equality and justice. And Dr. King achieved great success at attaining these lofty goals, despite his murder at the age of 39.

At only 26 years of age, Dr. King became a national figure by leading the Montgomery bus boycott. At that time, Dr. King was the new pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and was spurred to action by the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give her seat on a public bus to a white man. Dr. King inspired action through his words, “There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression.” With that, he called for a citywide boycott of public transit and demanded first come, first served seating, courteous treatment by bus operators, and the employment of African American bus drivers. The boycott lasted 382 days and in that time, Dr. King's house was bombed and he was arrested. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation on public transportation.

With the success of the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. King noted, “We have gained a new sense of dignity and destiny. We have discovered a new and powerful weapon, nonviolent resistance.”

Nonviolent resistance, which had been pioneered by Mohandas Gandhi in India, became a cornerstone of King's strategy to gain full civil rights and equality for all people. Over the next 13 years, Dr. King achieved basic civil rights for African-Americans, desegregation, the annulment of Jim Crow laws and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Dr. Martin Luther King Day allows us to reflect on the steps that we, as a nation, have made towards fulfilling Dr. King's dream. Dr. King's 1963 March on Washington was organized around numerous demands for civil rights, many of which are still very relevant today. One such demand was full and fair employment, including a raise in the minimum wage from $1.25 to $2 at that time.

I am proud that last week is part of the 110th Congress' first 100 hours. The House of Representatives addressed this issue by raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. This will significantly benefit a great many low-income families, including the 2.1 million African American minimum wage earners. Other legislation in the first 100 hours will improve health care and education for American families, including 3.9 million African American Medicare beneficiaries and 2.3 million African American college students.

This past weekend I commemorated the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Jackie Robinson Park and at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in my district. At these celebrations my constituents and I examined our progress over the past 40 years since Dr. King's tragic death and remember his line from “I Have a Dream” about the fierce urgency of now. Dr. King preached then that now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children, and it is still that time now.

With continued and wide disparities and access to higher education, wages, and access to health care, we as a Nation still have much work before us. Now, even as we celebrate one of the truly great men in this Nation's history, it is time to recommit ourselves to the vision of Dr. King and bring about racial equality and opportunity for every American.