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Monday marks the nationally observed birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a day when people across the U.S. will remember the famous minister from Georgia who didn’t just want to achieve equal rights for blacks, but strove for equality between every man, woman and child in America.

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Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for equality

13 Jan 2011 | Sgt. Lisa R. Strickland

Monday marks the nationally observed birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a day when people across the U.S. remember the famous minister from Georgia who didn’t just want to achieve equal rights for blacks, but strove for equality between every man, woman and child in America. King saw the inevitable good in everyone and sought to bring that benevolence out of all people.

“It’s a day of reflection, when we as a nation look at the contributions that have made this nation great,” said Gunnery Sgt. Harsheen T. Eady, the equal opportunity advisor for Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. “Monday is a day we are reminded that everybody has value.”

In King’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” he spoke to all Americans, from all backgrounds, about standing up for equality in a nonviolent revolution. King’s words captivated more than 200,000 people who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on that warm August day in 1963. Thousands more watched the speech on television from their living rooms.

King’s many speeches and nonviolent actions were instrumental in shaping the nation’s outlook on equality. He helped bring about a way to fight for freedom with righteousness, a way to turn ignorant oppressors into understanding companions, and a way to transform a nation of many colors into a more compassionate society, with the key being nonviolence.

The “I Have a Dream” speech did not just motivate a people, but it was a sermon to evoke a major transformation in the nation’s society.

Rena Shedrick-Marshall was born and raised in Washington, D.C., during those tumultuous times. She was 12 years old when King gave his famous speech and remembers his message well.

“He was saying that this is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off,” said Shedrick-Marshall.

King lifted peoples’ spirits and urged them to continue their commitment to equality.

“We are not advocating violence,” King said after his house was bombed Jan. 30, 1956, during the Montgomery bus boycott. “We want to love our enemies.”

Those who made the pledge to follow King were challenged to do so in a nonviolent fight for true freedom. King’s philosophy was to passively battle an ignorant society, and he asked all participants to live by his beliefs.

“Let us not satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred,” said King.

With these words and through his own actions, King urged people to be strong and wrestle their own temptations to viciously fight their “enemy.” King stressed that staying peaceful in protest is a way to do the opposite of what people expect and brings the fight to a higher plane of dignity.

King also found guidance and motivation from other earthly leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi was one of the most respected political and spiritual leaders in India during the Indian Nationalist Movement for India’s independence. He would fast and not eat for weeks to encourage his people to follow him and stay nonviolent in their fight.

Gandhi was arrested multiple times for going against the laws of the British, yet he stayed strong and even found honor is serving time in jail for doing what was right. King had many of the same struggles as Gandhi, for he spent many nights in a cold jail cell himself for breaking laws, such as conducting a nonviolent march without a parade license.

King actually wrote a famous letter from a jail in Birmingham, Ala. In his long letter, he quoted the Bible, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”

During that time in history, King had an enormous battle to fight against a surge of violence.

“I was terrified during that time,” said Shedrick-Marshall. “People thought back then that the only way to control a person was through violence. If we had more control of ourselves we wouldn’t have had as much violence.” 

 The nation hasn’t fully fulfilled King’s dreams. There isn’t segregation made by law, but self-segregation in churches, business offices and in schools. Violence is still found among all races, often a result of frustration born from ignorance. Right now, thousands of American men and women are fighting for peace in foreign lands.

“Look where we are now, we’re fighting side-by-side every day. But, even today, we have a long road to travel,” said Shedrick-Marshall.

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a pivotal point in the climb to equality. He inspired a whole nation to stand as one in justice and hope for all people.

“When he was making the speech, it not only affected the Negro, it affected the entire nation … like he said, ‘We will all be able to join hands and be one people and one country,’” said Shedrick-Marshall.

Eady added that Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is not just a day to take off work, but a day of service, when people can take the opportunity to give back to their community.

“That is what makes this country great,” said Eady.

King’s peaceful revolution in the 1960s conveyed that the best way to defeat oppression is to passively resist the racist institutions. 

King said, “With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”


Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point