Msnbc.com asked readers how Marlin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy have impacted their lives. Here are some of your stories:
From a white American
Some 40-plus years ago my evenings were filled with nightly, TV, news images of children near my own age. Images of police dogs ripping at exposed flesh. Images of young girls huddled against walls trying to shelter themselves from the stinging needles of high-pressure fire hoses. And images of, ugly, stormy, shouts from enraged mobs as children … children near my own age just tried to go to school. These were the images that tempered my awakening, you see it was 1963 and I was an idealistic Twelve going on 13.
It was 100 years, a century, after the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet you could still find places in America where blacks were expected to give up their seat on buses to any white person. A time when you could find toilets and drinking fountains marked “whites only” and “colored only.” It was also a time of massive, landslides of change. You see, I was brought up believing that America worked and it was these images that first caused me to question what I had been taught. Confusion and distrust were fast becoming my nightly bedfellows. America was becoming a riddle.
Then one day in August of 1963 I caught part of a speech from our nation's capital and even at 13, goose bumps rose on my flesh. It was here that I realized that the greatness in America exists in its people — people with the freedom and courage to fight a good fight. I realized that America is only what we make of it, good or bad, and we can only make America great if we adhere to the ideals embraced by our founders. America is a gift not given but earned, over and over again.
It took a man in a dark suit, a white shirt, a narrow tie and dark skin to resolve my confusion. I realized that freedom and justice while promised to us must be demanded and fought for whenever they are denied. America’s greatness lies in allowing this fight and we as citizens celebrate the ideals of our forefathers by parading these rights in the streets, demanding them at the foot of our most holy shrines and shouting them from every mountain top.
And, on that August day I remember ringing down from the Lincoln Memorial these words from that speech: “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream …"
Martin Luther King Jr. taught me what America could be and I still have tears of thanks in my eyes when I reflect on that great American! -- Michael Leibow, Torrance Calif.
From a black man
The legacy for Dr. King affects me by being a strong foundation for my future goals.
It allows for me to see what determination, self-sacrifice and self-discipline will help you accomplish in life no matter what it is. As a black male there are many obstacles varying from truths to stereotypes that might hinder some. Yet, Martin Luther King's example has helped to show me that the things set out to hinder you can be turned around and used to help you on life' journey. Dr. King also gave an example of how a strong faith can help to guide you on the path of life.
In conclusion, the biggest example that Dr. King has made was to show me that one generation's' sacrifices will turn out to be another generation's "blessings," and a prime example is the election of the first minority president. If it was not for the marching, the dogs, death threats, etc., I, as a young black male, would not be able to have witnessed this historic achievement. -- John Monroe, St. Petersburg, Fla.
'Discrimination is always cowardly'
As a stereotypical white guy, I never had a true understanding of racial discrimination and how persistent it can be. Then I moved to my new workplace in Asia, and I realized just how unfair and gut-twisting it is to have people make comments about the inferiority of your race on an hourly basis.
Discrimination is always cowardly, ignorant, and represents the last greatest challenge to the future of our world. Seeing how far we've come gives me hope that one day, with hard work, Mr. King's dream will come true. Sooner is better. -- Douglas Montgomery
A woman called Nana
My mother was an RN, and her best friend was a nurse as well. She lived with us. She was a very dark-skinned black woman. We called her Nana. Mother took us kids to visit George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, and of course Nana went with us. I had to go to the bathroom and Nana volunteered to take me. She was told she couldn't enter the bathroom with me because she was black.
The horrible part of this story is that Nana did not complain. She accepted the fact that she was not allowed in the bathroom with me. I was about 10 years old. We've come a long way and the lesson I learned has stayed with me these last 75 years. I can never hear the song "We Shall Overcome" without tears in my eyes. I loved my Nana. Do you really think some day we shall overcome? With all my heart. -- Anonymous, Blairstown, N.J.
Realm of possibility
My life is quite literally a thousand-fold better because of Dr. King's legacy. As I press forward in my quest to improve public education in particular and the world in general, I truly believe that much of what I am capable of doing and seeing is in many ways tied to the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the many others like him.
Without public opinion being shaped the way it was, there was little chance that I would grow up knowing families and friends of all hues and pigments. That open-mindedness, the feeling that being around a virtual rainbow of people is quite normal or commonplace is what makes it possible for me, today, to see that we are all people, and no matter the tone of our skin, we deserve an equal chance in this world.
Without his work, and the work of those that followed, I certainly would not, day in and day out, be the only (or one of two) Caucasian(s) in my classroom of 30 or more, on most occasions. It is completely within the realm of possibility to think that I would have just surrounded myself with shades, tones and hues that were much like my own. Instead, I make it a point to give to those with the greatest need for the gifts that I have to offer, and I do what I can to make sure that every student knows that they too have gifts; and to not share these gifts is akin to the little boy who grumpily gathers up all of his toys and pouts all the way home, all because he couldn't get his way. Dr. King could have easily opted for the path of least resistance. He didn’t, so why should I? Why should any of us for that matter?
The "realm of possibility" has grown exponentially, thanks to Dr. King and the legacy that continues to burn brightly today. Not only did it not seem alien for me to pursue employment at a school where the category ‘other’ includes Caucasian students, the legacy also means that my son (of mixed races) will have an even larger ‘realm of possibility’ than the one I have. My life, and all of those I am personally able to ‘touch’, continue to improve thanks, in part, to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- Joseph DeLuca, Irvine, Calif.
Sense of fear
Personally, I was afraid of Martin Luther King. I lived in Detroit at the time of the race riots. Everyone knew that after he spoke in a city, there would be a race riot, and sure enough there was. It was very obvious his agenda was not for the whites, but for the blacks only. His followers had to know how to react after he finished in each of the cities, because there was always a riot following. It was heart breaking to see the damage and hate festering.
I was a very naive young girl from Montana. I was raised to love and appreciate all, and I did so. Against my future mother-in-law's wants, I made sure that all my friends were welcomed by me and my future husband. They did come to my wedding and it was without incident.
I was very honored, because my wedding was the first white wedding for most of my friends. I truly loved all the friends I made in Michigan, and treasured their friendship! But, again, I feared Martin Luther King because there was so much hate and discontent following his visits. His messages were good, but seemed to have underlying meaning. -- Katharine Wilson, Billings, Mont.
A dream deferred?
I was 9 years old when Dr. King was assassinated. King fought for the rights of every man! But black folk in particular. His legacy is still somewhat in the "dream deferred" category.
I have a dream that one day, black fathers will stop meeting their black son's in the prison chow line! I have a dream that one day, black young men will fill up colleges and universities, institutions of higher learning instead of overcrowding jails, prison and youth facilities. I too have a dream. I have a dream, that one day I will see young black mothers and old black grandmothers learning from one another, in the tradition of the old Negro South. I have a dream that old black grandfathers will put young black fathers and young grandsons in their place when need be, I have this dream.
So today as we begin to celebrate the holiday of this historic figure, I ask: Have we lost our hope, our dare to dream? If so, how in the world can we get it back? -- Mark Fisher, Flint, Mich.
MLK's legacy means a chance of a fair life for me and my three sons. Being able to have a good education, job and lifestyle for my family. Not to tell my sons they need to ride on the back of the bus or because of the color of their skin. I'm educated and make a good living but still fear being pulled over because of the color of my skin. Its nice to see the races coming together through our kids; hopefully, life will be better for their generation. -- Michael Webb, Bowie, Md.
Source of inspiration
As a little girl in the '60s, I remember vividly MLK on television. My mother, a feminist and a writer for the Buffalo Evening News, wrote voracious letters to the editor expressing her passion and support for this deeply courageous and obviously spiritual man. My brother, 14 years older than I and also a writer, wrote his letters to the editor to voice his support for the civil rights movement. In a small town in western New York, with not many blacks in my community except for one family of which the two boys were my age and my friends, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about. "How could people treat each other unequally?" I thought. My mother, for her outspokenness, received hate letters in the mail from local people in our community. This scared me. I watched adults in heated passion fight for what they felt was right.
I learned from this experience how important it is to stand up for what you believe in and voice your opinions. Sometimes you have to fight for what is right because it's not handed to you. As a white woman, I can relate to the blacks' fight for equality. My mother, too, taught me to fight for women everywhere. She was feisty, and she was smart. And she didn't take a back seat to any man. I am so grateful for that.
I am a strong, independent and educated woman in my 50s now, and her spirit and the spirit of MLK fill me even now with inspiration and strength whenever I need it. I pass it on to my daughters and son, who are just like me in that regard. I am pleased. By the way, my father always supported my mother's efforts. He was not a writer, but he stood by her steadfastly. He was the steady rock. My mother was the passion. -- Jane Martin, Honesdale, Pa.
The 'N' word
Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy is that my Midwestern, white, middle-class children have never heard the "n" word in our house. Ever. When I think back to how many times I heard it as a kid growing up in a Midwestern, white, middle-class home, I cringe. His legacy also means my kids are more tolerant and open than my generation and that's what makes America great. Each generation is supposed to be better than the last. -- Sue Kunnanz, Bismark, N.D.