In light of yesterday’s observance of the Martin Luther King Day holiday, here are some quotations from Dr. King that continue to guide and inspire workplace advocates. They are compiled from various online sources, and include when the statement was made if that information was included by the source.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

(Speech at Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963)

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.

I can see nothing more basic in the life of an individual that to have a job or an income. I can never forget that our nation signed a huge promissory note back in 1776—’We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’

(Why We Must Go To Washington, DC: January 15, 1968)

Equality means dignity. And dignity demands a job and a paycheck that lasts through the week. (1963)

Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.

(Speech, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Georgia: August 16, 1967)

Dr. King’s widow, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, participated in yesterday’s observances at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Dr. King was a minister. Her words, appearing in an AP story prior to Monday’s holiday, empower us as well. (See Mercury News article.)

“I think that what Martin would be happy with is that every person would follow his teachings and not depend on a leader. What he wanted to do was elevate the whole of human kind and (have) individuals understand that they can make a difference.”

In President Bush’s proclamation commemorating the federal holiday, he stated,

As we honor Dr. King’s accomplishments, we pledge to work for a Nation in which all people of every race realize the promise of America. No government policy can put hope in people’s hearts or a sense of purpose in people’s lives; but we can and will continue to support efforts that seek to secure a Nation of dignity, liberty, and compassion.

However, the proclamation ironically (but not surprisingly) sidestepped any mention of the Administration’s role in attempting to dismantle race-based affirmative action efforts. (See 1/16/03 post below.) This irony was not lost, however, on some Democratic politicians, including two who are running for president, Senators John Edwards and Joseph Lieberman. (See AP article.) Sen. Edwards, who appeared in his home state of North Carolina, said,

“We should support efforts that increase diversity and put an end to systems, like legacy admissions, that give special preference to the most advantaged at the expense of diversity.”

Senator Lieberman, who appeared in Detroit because of the controversy surrounding the University of Michigan’s admission policies, stated,

“Until we reach that day where everyone is truly judged as Dr. King appealed for … by the content of their character, we have a responsibility to take affirmative steps to give everyone an equal opportunity to realize the American dream.”

Good resources for additional information about Dr. Martin Luther King: the website of The King Center and the King Papers Project at Stanford University.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.