Americans pay tribute today to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. An American civil rights leader and Nobel Prize recipient, he challenged his country to end racism, fight injustice and eliminate poverty to, in his words, "make America what it ought to be."
Assassinated 40 years ago leading a peaceful protest for workers' rights, his legacy is cherished by Americans of every race or creed.
Frequently jailed and threatened with violence, Dr. King led the civil rights movement to a series of landmark victories. They included the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other federal legislation and Supreme Court rulings outlawing racial discrimination in business, education, employment, voting and housing. In a time of division and violence, Dr. King had a vision of another America:
"I have a dream, that my 4 little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. . . "
The Martin Luther King Day holiday, celebrated each year around the time of his birthday, January 15, honors his memory, but also seeks to advance his legacy. Unlike other national holidays when Americans have a day off from work to mark the occasion in their separate ways, people across America take part in community service projects to help the needy as a way to celebrate Dr. King's dreams for the nation.
President-elect Barack Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and their families will volunteer in the Washington area today, ahead of inauguration ceremonies January 20. The goal is to make Dr. King's legacy of public service an even greater priority throughout American life.
Because Mr. Obama is an African-American like Dr. King, his election to the nation's highest office is also seen as part of the fulfillment of that legacy, that America strive to become a nation where people are judged by their character rather than the color of their skin. On Martin Luther King Day 2009, the U.S. has this too to celebrate.