EDITOR'S NOTE: For the Martin Luther King Day observance, we are publishing the text of a speech given during the recent commemoration at Blackhawk Technical College by Marc Perry, Director of Community Programs, for Community Action. - WRB
By Marc Perry
The time is always right to do what is right.
Dr. King first uttered these words to a group of students at Oberlin College in October 1964. The previous year, 1963 had been a turbulent one, violent resistance to change was occurring all over the United States and anyone promoting civil rights and practicing civil disobedience was a target for violence. Not even children were spared.
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, four members of a Ku Klux Klan-affiliated racist group bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, four African-American girls between the ages of 11 and 14 who had been attending the church's Sunday school, were killed in the blast. The bigotry and hatred was overt, vicious and unrelenting. Two months later, on November 22, 1963, hatred even took the life of President John F. Kennedy.
Those committed to the movement needed a leader more than ever and Dr. King, weary after nearly a decade of being the face, the voice and the engine of the civil rights movement, pushed himself and those closest to him to do more, to be better in order to move a nation forward.
And the words echoed... the time is always right to do what is right. We know well the words of the speeches and can identify many of the marches, but Dr. King was so much more, did so much more... Sacrifices made, not for himself, but for his children and grandchildren, all of us, and all of our children and grandchildren.
Dr. King was arrested 29 times, his home was fire bombed, his wife and children received regular death threats. Dr. King was struck with rocks, and clubs, had garbage thrown on him, on occasions too numerous to count people walked right up to him and spat in his face. Still he pushed forward. He was the key figure in persuading Congress to pass and President Lyndon to sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.
He also played a very prominent role in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act secured the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered the most effective piece of federal civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.
Even after being stabbed and nearly dying, he continued with the courage of his conviction... with the words still resonating... the time is always right to do what is right...
2019 marks 51 years since Dr. King was taken from us and every year that passes I fear that we lose a little more of his presence, of his greatness, of his wisdom. My fear is that he will become more rhetoric than reality; someone who made great speeches and led a few marches. It is why this celebration and others like it are so important to honor his legacy.
Dr. King and those who worked with him led an entire nation out of the dark ages. Although Dr. King was far from perfect, as all human beings are flawed, he saw in each of us the ability to achieve what our founding fathers referred to as a more perfect union. He truly believed that we could live together in a world of harmony and equity... and the words still resonate... the time is always right to do what is right....
To borrow a line from Dr. King, we have some difficult days ahead... we have allowed bias, bigotry, self-centeredness petty politics and self-aggrandizement to creep in and divide us. To blind us from the path set forth by Dr. King. However, Dr. King believed in what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the better angels of our nature, that doing what is right would someday eclipse doing for self.
I believe in Dr. King and his vision for the world, as I hope all of you do. In the end, it is not about the speeches or the marches, it is about doing what is right when everyone is watching, and most importantly, doing what is right when no one watching... and the words still resonate... the time is always right to do what is right...
Marc Perry is the Director of Community Programs for Community Action, Inc., of Rock and Walworth counties.