By Felix Perez
“Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Morehouse College student newspaper, 1947
Revered the world over for his transformative role in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the fundamental link uniting education, social justice and economic justice.
His unshakable belief in the power of education to lift up a people and advance worker rights is one of the many reasons tens of thousands of people — including NEA leadership — will gather in the nation’s capital this weekend to dedicate the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. The dedication ceremony marks the 48th anniversary of King’s history-making March on Washington for jobs and freedom, and his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
This historic moment reminds labor and education activists that King’s dream for economic and social justice is still relevant today. Americans suffer divisions and inequity. We know the road to better opportunity runs right through our public schools, and we must stand strong for our students and for great public schools to help close those divides.
As when King marched on Washington, our nation today is desperate for good jobs. Legal barriers to freedom have been removed, but Americans cannot pursue their dreams without jobs. NEA members are continuing their call to Congress and the President to work together and help put Americans back to work.
Five years after his “I Have a Dream” speech, addressing striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., King proclaimed, “…let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”
King saw the sanitation workers’ strike as part of the overall struggle for civil rights. NEA has a history steeped in a dedication to civil and human rights, and NEA is honored to support the memorial.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, in a column honoring King’s support for the striking sanitation workers, spoke about King’s evolution: “He realized that removing legal barriers alone would not bring about equal opportunity and economic justice for African-Americans. He recognized that workers of all races − including public employees like the Memphis sanitation workers − would have to use their collective strength to win a fair deal for themselves and their families.”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial features a 30-foot granite sculpture of King, a 450-foot wall engraved with many of his quotes and the use of water, stone and trees to convey four “fundamental and recurring themes in King’s life – democracy, justice, hope, and love.”
Interested in helping your students learn more about the legacy of King, especially his role in the Civil Rights Movement? Head to nea.org’s Martin Luther King Jr. resources area.
Photo: Jason Rosenberg