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Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By Mitch McConnell

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of one of America's greatest heroes, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King dreamt of an America where all of America's children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. By sharing his dream with the rest of us, Dr. King awoke a nation.

I remember all too well the days before Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement lit a fire across this country. Many parts of America were split into two separate nations, and they were certainly not equal.

As a young man I was present for not just one, but two significant events in the life of Dr. King. On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest racial inequality and to hear Dr. King give what would be his most remembered speech.

I was an intern at the time for Kentucky Congressman Gene Snyder, and so I went outside to stand on the Capitol steps. I supported Dr. King and his cause, and wanted to witness what I knew would be a pivotal point in history.

In the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King issued the greatest declaration of freedom since Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation a century earlier. His words moved a nation.

I returned to Washington in August of 1965 to visit Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper, who I had also interned for. Thanks to him, I had my second encounter with Martin Luther King.

Congress had passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act and sent it to President Johnson for his signature. Senator Cooper led me to the Capitol Rotunda for the signing ceremony.

I'll never forget President Johnson's physical presence in that room. His commanding figure almost filled the Rotunda. But another figure was there--not as large, but just as significant.

Dr. King stood by the president and witnessed the signing of the Voting Rights Act, an Act that would not have gained America's support without his efforts.

In fact, I do not believe this country's march towards liberty and equality, and away from racial injustice and division, would have been possible without Dr. King.

It would not have been possible without his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which first began to ignite what he called "a certain kind of fire that no water could put out."

It would not have been possible without his plea to America in front of the Lincoln Memorial, when he said, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

It would not have been possible without his enlisting all of us, black and white, in the cause of freedom when he said, "human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men."

Dr. King's faith and courage continue to inspire America. Our country has traveled far since the Civil Rights Movement to reach the promised land that he spoke of. It's been a difficult journey, and the journey is not yet over.

Dr. King said, "I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose, and that in the struggle for righteousness, man has cosmic companionship. Behind the harsh appearance of the world there is a benign power."

Those words serve to remind us that no matter the difficulty or the distance of our journey, our destination is clear, thanks to the foundation laid by Dr. King. That destination is liberty and justice for all.

Senator Mitch McConnell is the U.S. Senate Republican Leader and the senior senator for Kentucky.

This article first appeard in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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