Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. With Our Lives

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the death of one of America’s great heroes and a giant of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King was working on the frontlines of a movement in Memphis to support the sanitation workers on strike when his life was taken. It was there that he gave his last speech, I’ve Been on a Mountaintop.

Today, we pause and reflect on Dr. King’s extraordinary life and his tireless work to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. We stand on the shoulders of so many of our Civil Rights heroes who we’ve lost, such as Dr. King, Dorothy Height, and Rosa Parks. Yet their legacy continues.   

This August, we also mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, when thousands descended upon the capital to rally for civil and economic rights for all Americans. It was there, at the Lincoln Memorial, that Dr. King gave his most iconic speech, I Have a Dream.

Since Dr. King’s untimely and tragic death, we have strived to advance his ideals and realize his dream for all Americans to have the same economic and social opportunities.

During the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in 2011, President Obama said:

“If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain. He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another. He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.”

Here at the White House, we work each and every day to ensure that that our actions express those common commitments to each other: building an economy that serves the middle class and those striving to climb the ladders of opportunity into the middle class; making common sense immigration reform; protecting our children from harm; and giving all children the education required to pursue their dreams.

As we move forward on these challenges together, may we always live up to the words spoken by Dr. King the day before he died, “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama

Related Topics: Civil Rights
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