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A Message from President Caldwell on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

A Message from President Caldwell on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day


According to King biographer Jonathan Eig, when Martin Luther King, Jr. told his father he had decided to become a minister, his father warned him, “You’re not going to make a whole lot of money.”

The young man responded, “I’m not looking for money; I’m looking to serve.”

And serve he did.

On the eve of what would have been Dr. King’s 95th birthday, I’m reflecting on the value of service and its ability to go so much farther and achieve so much more than money. Dr. King is a perfect illustration of this idea. I shudder to think what America might look like today if Dr. King had chosen money over service.

To me, the most astounding aspect of Dr. King’s fight for equality was that he was fighting to realize every American value that has existed from the dawning of our nation. Everything we claimed to believe in as a nation was on his side, and he understood that.

The Declaration of Independence, with its assertion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” was on his side.

The U.S. Constitution’s promise that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” was on his side.

God’s second greatest commandment that we should love our neighbors as ourselves was on his side.

He alluded often to having God, the Founding Fathers, and the Framers of the Constitution in his corner. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. King said, “I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. And we are not wrong… If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.”

Nearly a decade later, in his famous I Have a Dream speech, he touched on the same theme, saying, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Dr. King changed the world through peaceful protest. He made a speech that altered the direction of our nation forever. He forced people to see injustices which were easier to ignore. He broke barriers on a regular basis and taught Americans that a person should not be defined by their race or any other physical characteristic but by the content of their character.

And he did it all in the face of severe persecution, including threats, crosses burned on his lawn, and even the bombing of his home. And, of course, persecution, which ended with his life being cut short in Memphis, Tennessee when he was 39 years old.

During his too-short life, Dr. King’s greatest accomplishment was to strike what was arguably the biggest blow to mass hypocrisy in the history of the world. He pointed to nearly two centuries of founding values that Americans claimed to hold and demanded that we prove to hold them.

Dr. King is one of our greatest leaders in American history, and on the 95th anniversary of his birth, my prayer is that we will continue to fight each and every day to be a nation that can fully realize our aspirational values, and a nation which will come together as one, to unite as the United States of America, to support and love each other, and to never forget the service of a great man and the importance of the dream he died pursuing.