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New generations must know and value the Rev. Dr. King Jr.



Published: Mon, January 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



It was nearly 34 years ago that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. A generation ago. And too much has been forgotten.

The children alive on that April 4 in 1968 have themselves grown up and have had children of their own. But those children -- an entire generation -- never saw the great civil rights march on Washington on the evening news. For them, now, it is only part of a history lesson.

They were never mortified by the news magazine images of Americans set upon by dogs and their racist police handlers as they tried to register to vote. For children today, the rights struggles of the 1960s are as much ancient history as the Civil War or even the Revolutionary War.

They were not alive to hear what was going on in Birmingham when it happened. Today, King's "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" is a reading assignment in English textbooks -- not a call to action.

New holiday: The young men and women who graduate from high school this year would not have observed a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on the third Monday in January: unless they lived in California, the first state to honor the great human rights leader in 1970.

For it wasn't until Jan. 20, 1986, that Americans across the country celebrated the Monday nearest Dr. King's Jan. 15 birthday of as a national legal holiday.

These days, schools, civic organizations, religious groups and government agencies do their best to honor Dr. King's memory. But honoring an abstract concept with speeches and the flying of Old Glory is not the same as honoring the work of Dr. King by acting to perpetuate it.

Dr. King died for civil rights, for peace and for economic justice. We honor his memory best when we live for those ideals.




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