- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2008

The National Holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became law after a 17-year-long campaign by people of goodwill in our country to have our nation acknowledge that King’s life and work defined for the world, as has no other personality in our storied history as a nation. It was the essence of the “American Dream,” a dream around which the Founding Fathers of our nation framed the Constitution of the United States.

The building of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on our National Mall gives brick-and-mortar content to the fact that, in the month of January every year now, people of goodwill in 108 nations of our world today pause to recognize the life and legacy of one who was the singular most important man, with the most important message for the most violent century in the history of mankind. His message was simply this: “Either we learn to live together as brothers and sisters on this planet, or we will perish together as fools.” At no time in human history has that message been more important than it is today.

The King Memorial on our National Mall is an acknowledgement of the fact that, in a public career that stretched across the 14 years between a place called Montgomery, Ala. in 1954 to a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 King established the cadences to which people of goodwill of shall forever march on this planet in their quest for peace and justice.

The memorial is a concrete, brick-and-mortar reminder that King was a “spiritual and political genius” who paid his debt to the past by placing the future in debt to him. He was a debtor to three great men: Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson and the framers. He took the love ethic of Jesus, who fervently taught that we should “Love our enemies, do good to them that curse us and pray for those who spitefully use us.” He combined it with the nonviolent tactics of Mahatma Gandhi in India and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers of this country, who, in the U.S. Constitution, mandated that “no state shall deny any citizen the right of peaceable assembly to petition the government for redress of grievances. He blended those three things into an applied formula that, on his watch, redeemed the soul of America on the question of racial justice. Again, King was a “spiritual and political genius.” I make this claim without fear of successful contradiction for three reasons. First, I speak with the authority of a professionally trained theologian and pastor of an inner-city church for 49 years now.

Second, I speak with the authority of one who served as King’s personal representative to the presidents of the United States, the leadership of the House and Senate and the heads of the cabinet-level agencies of the federal government that had relevance to our struggle for peace, freedom and human dignity in the 1960s. Third, I speak with the authority of one who served for 20 years following King’s assassination in the Congress of the United States, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, a member of the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee and chair of its subcommittee on International Development, Finance, Trade and Monetary Policy. I am a practicing political scientist.

Without fear of successful contradiction, I tell you that King paid his debt to the sages of the past by placing the future in debt to him for his valiant struggle to end the barbarism of war, the decadence of racism and the scourge of poverty on his watch.

Every man and woman of goodwill on this planet, every boy and girl of Every race, creed and color owes a great debt of gratitude to Martin Luther King Jr. From the mountain top today, this now long-gone personification of the “American Dream” beckons us to pay our debt to him and the sages of the ages by placing the future in debt to us. He beckons us “to serve the Present Age, our calling to fulfill. Oh, may it all our powers engage to do our Master’s will” on our watch.

The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, who served as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal representative to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, is pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church.

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