Forty-eight years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver his inspirational "I Have a Dream" speech which paved the way for America to embrace people of all backgrounds, regardless of color, religion, and gender. This Sunday, we will celebrate the unveiling of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial at 1964 Independence Avenue, which honors Dr. King's role in establishing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his fight to make equality in America a reality for everyone.
I am fortunate that I was able to witness the bold struggle to change our country when I marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. I recall the days when people of color and certain backgrounds were denied entry into restaurants, hotels, bathrooms and even access to drinking fountains. Innocent kids were denied the right to attend schools because of the color of their skin. Yet there were courageous men and women who helped lead our country on the path of equality and justice, including Rosa Parks who refused to sit in the back of the bus and inspired more blacks to stand up for their rights. Upon her death in 2005, Rosa Parks was the first woman to be granted the posthumous honor of lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda.
I am proud to serve in the House of Representatives with my esteemed colleague Representative John Lewis from Georgia, who was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders and was severely beaten during the marches with Dr. King. From Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to President Barack Obama, we have made tremendous strides as a nation to break through barriers and overcome injustices to fulfill Dr. King's dream.
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." These words, spoken by Dr. King almost half a century ago, still ring true today.
Our nation has seen profound and positive changes in many ways; however, some of the hardest struggles still lie ahead of us. Many people of color in our country are still trapped in a widening economic gap. Young minority men throughout the United States, as in New York City, face disproportionately higher rates of joblessness and lack of education. Dreams of attaining higher education for children of immigrants remain elusive. We are seeing prejudice against newcomers, as well as Muslims, in our country. We have much to do as a nation to promote equality and justice for all.
Dr. King's Memorial rests in the middle of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Dr. King shared President Lincoln and Jefferson's vision for freedom and liberty. He taught us not to be "satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." As the first monument dedicated to a private citizen, The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial serves as an everlasting reminder to our nation to carry on Dr. King's legacy of striving for a better tomorrow and a better America.
The following article was originally published in The Hill's Congress Blog on August 24, 2011.