Jn. 25, 2019 – As many celebrated the life of Martin Luther King on Monday, those in the community striving to extend his legacy continue the work he began.
Garrett Waters, the region 5 president of the Civil and Human Rights Committee within the United Auto Workers Union, said while many believe King to be a superhero by all the work he accomplished during his life, King completed his work with an impeccable work ethic, passion and dedication.
“Martin Luther King was not a superhero,” Waters said. “I would like the rest of the world to know that he was a man. He worked vigorously on not letting the integrity of his mission and dream become compromised, he was a community organizer, freedom fighter, martyr and most importantly a man, not a superhero.”
Waters said he can understand why many would see King as a superman. Waters said he traveled to Memphis, Tennessee last year to honor King on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Going through the museums dedicated to King’s life revealed to Waters how much work King actually accomplished.
“It’s like he lived 10 lives,” he said.
King did so by not adding more fire to the existing fire of hatred, Waters said. Firefighters do not attempt to douse a fire with more fire, he said, they use water. King attempted to add water to the existing Civil Rights Movement fires.
Excelsior Springs resident and Civil and Human Rights Committee member Jackie Cleaves also made the trip last year. She said King’s worked helped make great strides in helping her and her family gain the rights they deserve.
“Because of the things that he stood for our children now have the right to attend any school that they choose,” she said. “We now can sit at the lunch counter side by side with my white brothers and sisters.”
Born Jan. 15, 1929 as Michael Luther King Jr., King’s father changed his and his son’s name to Martin after becoming inspired by Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther during a trip to Germany.
After finishing high school at the age of 15, King continued his studies to eventually earning his doctorate from Boston University in 1955.
After being elected to lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King sought to provide new non-violence demonstration leadership throughout the Civil Rights Movement.
Most famous for his speech “I Have a Dream,” of which he delivered at a peaceful march to Washington D.C., he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, receiving it at the age of 35.
After a malfunctioning garbage compactor crushed sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker to death, King traveled to Memphis to aid sanitation workers in a strike protesting unsafe working conditions. While there, a gunman assassinated King while he stood on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel.
Excelsior Springs High School teacher Keith Dolsky taught United States History for 10 years. He said King wanted to bring opportunities for those of all races through his work. King used the approach of Gandhi, Dolsky said, to help bring forth change.
King did so because he knew if he used violence, he would help to foster an us versus them mentality, Dolsky said. This mentality would put those in the mindset of having to fight for survival.
After helping to get the voting rights bill in 1965, Dolsky said King continued fighting for the economic equality for all Americans.
“He wasn’t just looking out for just one group of people, he was looking out for a lot of Americans,” he said,” All Americans in that true sense.”
CONTINUING HIS LEGACY
Waters said he believes King’s legacy to be an important one to keep. Because of King’s non-violence approach to the Civil Rights Movement, Waters said with all the hatred still in existence today, the legacy must live on for the children.
The racial atmosphere in the country remains similar to the one in 1968, he said. For many in his East Kansas City neighborhood, Waters said the remaining racial tension seems hopeless. King represents that hope.
“There no way that we can let a person with that courage pass in vain,” he said.
They continue on, Waters said, by volunteering their time and helping to educate those on how to break the cycle of hate. When he sees someone truly understand the problems from another’s point of view, Waters said he considers it a gift.
Dolsky said the problems within the races still surface and King’s example helps to show the problem and resolve it without violence.
Cleaves said with all the newfound racism currently existing, those still fighting have a long way to go. She said at 58 years old, she will continue to fight racism.
“We have come too far to turn back now,” she said.