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Remembering Dr. King on MLK Day

Martin Luther King
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I was four weeks old when Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. I wasn’t yet five years old when Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. So to say I remember Dr. King wouldn’t be right. But I remember learning about him very early in elementary school and he is one of my strongest memories of Seward Elementary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Seward Elementary had a bronze plaque mounted in the hallway outside the library entrance that had a picture of Dr. King and an excerpt from his “I Have  A Dream” speech from 1963. I was always a curious kid and read those words every day, not really knowing their full meaning. When you’re six or eight years old, those are bigger concepts than we could comprehend. We were unaware of what real life was like. We were insulated in middle America and lived in our parents worlds.

But I look back at Polaroid photos from those days and see ‘my friends’. In a lot of the pictures, two of my best friends were white, and two were African-American. Funny, but I just remember the four of them as my friends. Was that part of the reason I wanted to find out more about Dr. King? I can’t say that for sure. But seeing that plaque every day and reading those words when I could understand them made an impact.

We learned about his words of equality during the normal course of classes. Year later when it was declared a national holiday to mark the anniversary of that famous speech, or during “Black History Month”. Those things came about long after I was out of school.

Dr. King enrolled in Morehouse College at 15, won the Nobel Peace Prize at 35 and was just 39 when he was assassinated at a Memphis hotel (a location that has been turned into a civil rights museum) His murder sparked riots across the country. But again, as a child in Minneapolis, we were completely unaware of what was going on in the world.

I hope Dr. King is more than a footnote for kids today. That he takes his rightful place as a leader, minister, and important figure in U.S. History. His “I Have A Dream” words are as important and insightful today as they are today as they were 50 years ago this summer when he delivered them during the March on Washington.

If you’ve got 17 minutes on your day off to remember the man, do so.

 

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