January 23, 2012 |

Better than a medal

A gold medal! We have all dreamed of such an accomplishment! Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded not just one, but two gold medals: The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Unfortunately, he could not wear them because they were given posthumously.

He certainly deserved medals. Born on January 15, 1929 he grew up valuing education. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948. His father and grandfather had both been Baptist ministers, so after considering medicine and law he followed in their footsteps and entered ministry.

While attending seminary in Pennsylvania he heard a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi, and how he had used nonviolence successfully against British rule in India. This impressed Martin.

He later became a Baptist minister and prominent leader for the African American Civil Rights Movement. In 1955 he helped stage the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1957 he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, becoming their first president. He knew as a Christian that all men were created equal and precious by God.

In 1963 he led the March on Washington, where he gave his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech, inspiring listeners to value people on the content of their character. In 1964 he became the youngest recipient to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end racial discrimination and segregation.

Even greater than King’s medals is a monument that has been built to honor this heroic man, his movement, and his message.

Dedicated on October 16, 2011, it reflects the four Christ-like themes of his life: justice, democracy, hope, and love. It is strategically located in Washington D.C. in alignment with the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials because his ideas of democracy line up with these two famous presidents.

If you visit his memorial you will first notice the 450 foot crescent-shaped inscription wall where fourteen of his famous quotes have been carved into granite. You will see in the center a huge boulder cut, with the center slab pushed through.

On the visible side are King’s words, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” On the other side you will read another great personal quote, “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness,” an answer King gave once when he asked how he wanted to be remembered.

Entering the boulder you will move through the great struggles that King encountered throughout his life, then exit into an open plaza. It is there that King’s thirty foot, larger-than-life, image becomes apparent, emerging from the stone, gazing hopefully toward the future.

Yoshino cherry blossoms line the basin. Planted in 1912 they were a gift from Japan to signify peace and unity. The Memorial added 182 more trees. Interestingly, they bloom for only two weeks during the same time of the year as his assassination took place, April 4. Crape myrtles were also planted so they would continue colors of hope, with foliage into summer and fall.

Can you imagine anything greater than a life worthy of medals and a monument? Would it possibly be a day designated every year to be honored? Due to his immense popularity and respect for his great lifetime achievements, campaigns started for his birthday to be a holiday.

After the first bill was introduced to congress the trade unions continued encouraging its approval. Endorsed in 1976, it became a federal law in 1983. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the third Monday of January, was first observed in 1986 and observed by all states by the year 2000.

All American citizens now have the opportunity to honor this historical hero.

Even more importantly, we can remember to stay personally active in standing up for social justice and volunteering to serve in civil organizations.

Perhaps it was best that Martin Luther King, Jr. received his medals after his death; like his medals, his cause of equality will never die.

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