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Let me be remembered ...

By Joseph Darter

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[January 25, 2014]  I knew that I wanted to write my next article about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. almost immediately after submitting my last one, but I wanted to wait because I did not want to be that guy who writes about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his own holiday. 

Now that I have that out of the way, I wish to explain why I have such deep respect for Dr. King and for the legacy that he left for all Americans to follow.

What I admire the most of Dr. King, and to the same extent John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, is that they were not perfect. They sinned. They were just like any of us. What I find inspiring is that they all overcame some form of moral shortcomings in a fashion that would be almost impossible to do today with our 24-hour news cycle. Dr. King's personal failings, which were many, did not interfere with him bearing the burden of duty. Like most people, I find great inspiration in the eloquent prose that he gave us, but I find the most solace in the fact that, like me, he stumbled and failed and against daunting odds, eventually became successful in his endeavors. To me, that is the greatest legacy that Dr. King  as well as the Kennedy brothers  left to us.

As we follow the long arc of history, we are finding out more and more about the personal life of Dr. King. Through books and court documents, we have learned that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI had secretly bugged the home and hotel rooms of Dr. King and had found that Dr. King liked to have sex with women who were not his wife. We have also learned that it is probable that Dr. King plagiarized a portion of his doctoral thesis. While I am not condoning this type of behavior, it does go to show that even our most revered citizens are in fact mortal. This sinner, adulterer and plagiarist had shown poor judgment in his personal life, but it never diminished his ability to keep marching toward equality. His very private failings did not stifle his very public accomplishments. Even with the FBI sending anonymous letters threatening to expose their evidence to the national media, and in the same letter suggesting that he kill himself to avoid national embarrassment and to protect the civil rights movement, Dr. King would march on.

When I think about what I want to do in life, I often think of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy Jr. and how they were both committed to ending poverty. I am inspired by Robert Kennedy Jr., a member of American royalty, going into ghettos and Appalachia so that he might better understand the hardships that millions of people faced. I am equally inspired by the fact that Dr. King walked into those same ghettos and run-down mountain shacks and came out even more determined to do right, no matter what it would cost. These two flawed but privileged men would do more in three years to combat extreme poverty than any two people before or since. These imperfect men stood up against raging fire hoses and vicious police dogs and would march on Washington, and one would light an eternal flame for his fallen brother. They would rise above their destructive personal behavior and prove that personal redemption is possible.

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Both Dr. King and RFK did what they did, not so that they would be remembered, but because it was the right course of action to take. Both of these men knew that America was not living up to the promise of our Constitution and that urgent action was required. What else can we possibly ask of our fellow citizens than that? To speak up at the sight of injustice is paramount. To speak up and demand action that the poor not be forgotten is not socialism, but it is the moral duty of our time. To stand back out of apathy is to do more of a disservice to the memory of Dr. King than almost anything that we can do.

What propelled Dr. King down his path of righteousness is within each and every American. We all have the ability to change the lives of our friends and neighbors for the good if we could only get past our own personal failings. If we can get past those failings and understand that we all fall short at times and that our personal failings do not define us, then we will have honored the legacies of Dr. King and RFK.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered after his death, Dr. King said: "I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter."


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