01/15/2012 03:31 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2012

Rangel Remembers: MLK's Legacy of Service

In August of 1963, the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a heartwarming speech that called for racial equality and social justice for all Americans, a speech that envisioned a greater America and a more unified people. Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and preached a message that guided us towards a dream that all Americans, regardless of their background or skin color, could live together in mutual equality and respect for one another. His bold leadership united people of all backgrounds in an effort to achieve freedom and basic civil rights.

It was his inspiring words that led to a rise of fearless civil rights leaders to march towards a more perfect union. In 1963, when I marched those 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. King, 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.

During that march I failed to realize that we were making history and did not foresee that the Voting Rights Act and other laws resulting from those struggles would make it possible for me and others like me to serve in Congress. People marched and died so that more black members of Congress would take their places in the halls of power.

On October 16, 2010, President Barack Obama and the American people dedicated a memorial for the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which now rests in the middle of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials -- two great men whose vision for freedom and liberty he shared. The long and hard fought Martin Luther King Memorial was raised to forever commemorate the life, work and legacy of a true American visionary.

Our nation has seen profound and positive changes in many ways. We are now much closer to achieving his dream of freedom and justice for all through the hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country that have answered President Obama's call to participate in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. However to truly honor Dr. King's legacy, we must ensure we do not regress as a nation. A record number of state legislatures across the America are enacting measures this election year to disenfranchise countless minorities, young people, and senior citizens.

We must never forget the hardships of the past and the enduring legacy of Dr. King as we work to combat the challenges of today with the same strength, persistence, and determination that were demonstrated by him. It is our collective responsibility as a nation to ensure a strong future for the founding promise of this country of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone in America.