”The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On a recent trip to the Left Coast for the Georgia Bulldogs trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, I picked San Diego, my favorite city in California, as my entry/exit point and base of operations for my stay. One crisp morning (low 70s there, high 20’s here at the time), I took a long stroll along the Embarcadero and the Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade. The walkway parallels North Harbor Drive and then the San Diego Trolley Line, it begins just shy of Petco Field and continues past the San Diego Convention Center and then some of the priciest condos and apartments in the city, with views over-looking San Diego Harbor and Coronado Island. Along the way there are pocket parks, a kid’s playground, small urban gardens and off-leash dog park. In the center of the promenade there is a large water feature and reflection pond, for personal reflection and just hanging out.
This past Sunday, Jan. 14, San Diego hosted its 38th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, parallel to that same promenade. That parade is one of our nation’s largest celebrations of the federal King holiday.
Being a Georgia native, I can’t actually remember a time of not being aware of Dr. King and his works and importance, though he had left this earth before I entered elementary school. From the early gospel lyrics of “There Was a Boy a Georgia Boy,” to Dr. King’s famed speeches and later to the debate and legislation to make the date of Dr. King’s birth into a state and later federal holiday, Dr. King seemed almost omnipresent into my early adulthood.
The first King Day celebration in 1969 was a product of the King Center in Atlanta, and Mrs. Coretta Scott King became the primary advocate and proponent of a national holiday. Though fellow Georgian and later President Jimmy Carter also became a supporter of the proposed holiday, it was actually President Ronald Reagan who signed the federal holiday into law in November of 1983, with the first federal recognition and holiday set for 1986.
Though most every major urban center and capital city in our nation has its own Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, or a similarly named school, those roadways often traverse some of each cities most challenged communities. Here in Georgia, and our capital city, a new statute now adorns the lawn or our state Capitol, looking out and along Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. As the road winds west past the Capitol, towards the Fulton County Government Center, new Mercedes Benz Stadium and moving towards the Atlanta University Center, Atlanta’s west-side is finally experiencing a resurgence, as well as a renewed sense of hope and optimism.
It isn’t perfect, but it’s a strong start, with a plan, diverse skin in the game and lots of voices being heard, as well as involved. As our federal holiday is now a full generation old, chances are that many Millenials might think this holiday has always been, like President’s Day (once two separate holidays for Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln). It’s crystal clear though on the issues of turning around challenged inner city communities and race relations, there remains a lot of work left to be done.
Attaching the name of the Civil Rights movement’s leader to a prominent roadway or local public school is significant, and those are contributions towards healing, but building the path forward could still use our assist. Here in Dr. King’s home state, as well as the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, we might take a page from San Diego’s playbook. We might further acknowledge the contributions, leadership and Dr. King’s greatness also in places and stations of grandeur.
Much like the new statue on the grounds of our Georgia Capitol building is there to inspire and educate, let’s focus on bringing the realities of Dr. King’s vision to the communities and neighborhoods along those roadways bearing his name. The easy part has been accomplished, his legacy is enduring and has been recognized. Now it’s time for the heavy lifting, seeking and identifying catalysts for change, and making more of those long-term dreams of Dr. King’s into realities. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and week.
Bill Crane is a senior
communications strategist who
began his career in broadcasting and has worked at the state capitol and in Washington in both
political parties. Contact him