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On King Holiday, Great Speakers Embrace His Spirit

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The King Holiday offers a unique time to reflect upon our past, present and upon the aspirations of all of us who seek to improve the bonds that unite our families, communities, and nation together not just for us, but for the betterment of the coming generation. Here are some brief passages and quotes that convey the spirit of this very special day.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

- Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.

- President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Address to Joint Session of Congress, March 15, 1965

The action of peace is not only demonstrated in reaching out to others, but it is also searching one's own heart and discovering the inner resources to walk in stillness in one's own life. On this day of service, why don't we try to be a little more kind, a little more loving, and a little more peaceful in our personal, community, and professional affairs? Why don't we find a way to stop the yelling and the mean words, the disrespect and self-centeredness? Why don't we bring an end to the bitterness and hatred, the anger and conflict? Why don't we use this King holiday to find a way to forgive, to find a way toward love and the perfect peace within?

- Congressman John Lewis, January 15, 2010

As a first step, we must restore our belief in ourselves. We are a generous people, so why can't we be generous with each other? We need to take to heart the words spoken by Thomas Jefferson:

Let us restore the social intercourse -- "Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and that affection without which liberty and even life are but dreary things."

A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good.

- Barbara Jordan, The Common Good, July 12, 1976

For friends who loved and cared for me, and for a God who spared me, and for a family who understood, I am eternally grateful.

If, in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through some error of temper, taste, or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain, or revived someone's fears, that was not my truest self. If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me. Charge it to my head and not to my heart. My head -- so limited in its finitude; my heart, which is boundless in its love for the human family. I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds. As I develop and serve, be patient: God is not finished with me yet.

- Jesse Jackson, Democratic Convention Address, San Francisco, July 18, 1984

It is reminiscent of the trip I took to Buchenwald because it reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil. One of the most striking things that I heard was that right above the dungeons in which male captives were kept was a church, and that reminds us that sometimes we can tolerate and stand by great evil even as we think that we're doing good.

- President Barack Obama, Remarks at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana, July 11, 2009

We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

- U.S. Supreme Court: Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

- Langston Hughes, 1902-1967

For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

- George Washington, Letter to Hebrew Congregation, Newport, RI, 1790

But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guarantied by the supreme law of the land are involved.

- U.S. Supreme Court: Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896) (Harlan Dissent).

Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.

- James Baldwin

When I sing, I don`t want them to see that my face is black. I don`t want them to see that my face is white. I want them to see my soul. And that is colorless.

- Marion Anderson, Opera Legend, 1897-1993

Our expanding ethnic diversity of this century, a time when we will all be minorities, offers us an invitation to create a larger memory of who we are as Americans and to re-affirm our founding principle of equality. Let's put aside fears of the "disuniting of America" and warnings of the "clash of civilizations." As Langston Hughes sang, "Let America be America, where equality is in the air we breathe.

- Ron Takaki

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.

- John Hope Franklin

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

- Robert Kennedy, Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Indianapolis, April 4, 1968

This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.
I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Sen. Obama believes that, too. But we both recognize that though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound.

A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T. Washington to visit -- to dine at the White House -- was taken as an outrage in many quarters. America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.

Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer in my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day, though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise.

- Senator John McCain, Concession Speech, Phoenix, AZ, Nov. 4, 2008

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