Monday, January 18, 2010

The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo: I Have a Dream Speech - Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Today's newspaper column. Read it in the Hattiesburg American.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. Not a complaint - a living dream.

The powerful and compelling vision he articulated was that someday, in America, people would not be “judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

We’ve come a long way since that late August in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. uttered those very words from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. To the country and the world, the ideals those words embodied were a beacon of truth beaming from the shores of justice through a thick fog of prejudice, hate, and injustice.

Thomas Jefferson penned the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, but those words rang hollow when compared to the suffering of some at the hands of others hell-bent on ‘keeping Negros in their place.’ In the face of sneers, segregation and the all-too-common lynching, King preached the gospel of love and non-violence – but not acceptance of the status quo - as a path to equality. And for that, he was shot and killed.

So today we honor the ideal of racial equality and memorialize the actions of this civil rights martyr with a national holiday on the Monday closest to the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lesser known was a version of Rev. King in Hattiesburg, Mississippi: Rev. J.C. Killingsworth. Killingsworth led the civil rights movement in Hattiesburg spearheading and organizing peaceful demonstrations during this volatile time in our nation’s history putting his own life at risk as well as those of his family and associates.

Today, a group of involved citizens in Hattiesburg – the J.C. Killingsworth Freedom Corner Committee - has a dream. The dream is to create a living interactive memorial and education center for the purpose of honoring pillars of the civil rights struggle in Hattiesburg, MS. Appropriately, the site is located at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and the newly renamed J.C. Killingsworth Avenue.

This memorial is not an attempt to rehash the past, but to put history in context for the next generation, and to play a vital part in racial reconciliation.

Wander through the “Pillars of the Movement” and hear oral histories of 12 Hattiesburg civil rights leaders. Break through the “Wall of Injustice” and be serenaded by jubilant gospel anthems as you gaze into a central sphere reflecting a kaleidoscope of colorful murals of Hattiesburg’s civil rights pillars in the background while seeing the most important person in the ongoing quest for racial equality - yourself.

To find out how you can help turn this Freedom Corner dream into reality, send an email to or write to Freedom Corner, c/o James Ray Polk Architect, P.O. Box 1253, Hattiesburg, MS 39403. Or donate online by going to

Let’s join together to bring about a vibrant and sustainable culture of true racial equality in the community in which we live.

Take a tour of the J.C. Killingsworth Freedom Corner here.

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