This coming Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. As we all know, Dr. King was a Baptist minister, born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. Sadly, he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968. I once heard it said that we have two things of which we are not responsible for, the day we are born and the day we die. The rest, as they say, is the dash between the numbers, in which we are responsible for what happens with that dash.
Dr. King did a lot with his dash for which the world is grateful. In my view Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero. He was somebody who was called to the ministry, to teach and preach and lead a congregation and by all accounts was an exceptional minister However, he allowed his life to be changed as he was called to do even greater things with his ministry. Those greater things included social justice work of the highest order that led to the end of segregation in our country.
It is hard to understand that there was once stiff opposition to making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. In fact it is likely a sign of how far we have come in this country that the legacy of Dr. King is forever rooted in our memories and history. It is not just the cadence of his voice as he delivered his iconic, “I Have a Dream” speech that lives on, but the fruits of his labor that resulted in the equality that we take for granted today. Many of the words spoken by Dr. King have become emblematic of an all-inclusive society.
In thinking about Dr. King, I am also reminded of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Remarkably, 2023 marks eighty years since the desegregation of the Hillburn schools with the closing of the Brook School in Hillburn, New York.
This largely occurred because of the unity of the people and the efforts of a young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall. He came to Rockland on behalf of the NAACP and argued vociferously for an end to separate and unequal schools eleven years before Brown v. the Board of Education. Marshall argued that the Brook School, which served only African Americans, should be closed because the conditions were substandard compared to the newer Hillburn schools that had been constructed.
Moreover, there was sufficient space to teach all the students together and thanks to the efforts of Marshall, the Commissioner agreed and integrated the schools. Many days, I find myself walking in New City and pass by the recently erected statue honoring Thurgood Marshall. It is a fitting tribute that the statue is here in our town. It is a reminder that this great man walked among us and fought legal battles here, which helped bring equality to the classroom.
So as you are enjoying your day off on Monday, please remember these two giants who did much to bring about equality both locally and nationally. In their honor, perhaps offer service to others through volunteerism. On January 16th, I will be attending several ceremonies marking the day and holding a positive thought on just how far our country has come thanks to Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.