As an older American citizen I can look back some 6 decades (almost) and recall and reflect upon several history making citizens, men and women, who have left an indelible mark on our collective national consciousness. My own personal recollections will always bring to mind the presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower (perhaps because my father talked so much about him) John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan with the most vivid memories. I'll not forget watching Neil Armstrong on the moon, but even before Mr. Armstrong's accomplishments I remember the sadness I felt for the loss of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Rodger Chaffee, and an appreciation for what I sensed at a young age was a sacrifice to some higher cause .... a quest for something greater to be achieved.
As to others notable, I was fascinated by Gloria Steinem and women's rights, knowing full well that I was not going to be one that would settle well into the then expected career of the average American woman ... a homemaker. I listened to Joan Baez and Buffy St. Marie and their anti-war voice during the 60's and 70's and at the same time wrote to a high school friend his entire time in Vietnam. Vietnam vets, an entire generation of men and women, engraved into our collective memory and who only in recent years have been given a welcome home.
I've always held the majority of our news journalist and broadcasters in high regard, and believe that the integrity, or lack of, concerning their coverage of 'the news' has played and will continue to play an extremely important role in American history. Our entertainers and celebrities also shape our mindset. No one can discount Oprah Winfrey's influence on the American public, especially concerning women. And we have our legends such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley who never seem to die. I've often wondered if Marilyn and Elvis would simply like to rest in peaceful obscurity. If so, I don't think they are going to get their wish anytime soon.
Of course, in my life time there have been countless sports heroes and Olympian heroes ... some deserving of the title .... some not. And several religious leaders, the most enduring of all American religious leaders being Billy Graham who began his ministry in the 1940's.
... I could go on with a list of famous and notable Americans for the past 60 years ... other worthy politicians,educators, artists, literary figures ... and not to forget our life changing scientists and inventors ... but obviously you get my point. But I believe that No. 1 spot .... top of the list goes to Martin Luther King, that No. 1 spot always being shared with other Civil Rights leaders, famous or unknown, who righted the direction of a country steeped in continued racial discrimination and injustice 100 years after the end of the Civil War.
On a personal note .... through out my lifetime I have never been able to understand this prejudice based on the color of skin. And although I know the histories of prejudices levied against man, woman and child, have read the books, seen the movies, talked to friends and witnessed myself events hurling insults at others because of their race .... I still am baffled by a concept that makes no sense to me. I recognize it exists, but will never understand why it exists.
So I thank Dr. King for his contributions ... his ultimate sacrifice in the face of incomprehensible hated ... for forging a path that could, after all, be the only path conceivable for the future of our country. I thank those uncommonly common men and women who helped King find that path and I thank those who stayed on the path after his assassination. Simply put, I can imagine these United States possibly without the handful of men and women who I have mentioned above, but I cannot imagine this union as it stands today without the birth, life, work and death of Martin Luther King.
From "I Have a Dream"
Delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
And tomorrow, January 20th, 2009, with the swearing in of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, Dr. King's dream has been realized for one shining and everlasting moment.
Congratulations President Obama!
Smile down upon us, Dr. King.