This Jan. 15, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is commemorated on the third Monday of the month and has been a federal holiday since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan signed the overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation adopted by Congress. On this 41st anniversary of the holiday, it is a good time to reflect on the life, legacy, and lessons of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and why conservatives continue to embrace his timeless message.
We Still Have a Dream
When you think of Martin Luther King, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you are like many, it is his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. Over a quarter-million people of all races gathered in Washington, D.C. to hear Dr. King passionately describe his vision of a race-neutral republic. When we listen to his speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we hear King in that powerful cadence of a Southern preacher proclaim, “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.”
Conservatives embrace Dr. King’s dream of an America in which its citizens are neither advantaged, nor disadvantaged, based on race, and its laws no longer favor one group over another. In an era in which some continue to play the worn-out and divisive game of identity politics that further divides Americans, conservatives across the country are advancing King’s dream by fighting to end pernicious race-based policies that pit one group of citizens against another.
We Know Freedom Is Our Precious Birthright as Americans
As often as people listen to, or talk about, the “I Have A Dream” speech, most might say the speech is about race. I encourage all to look more closely. The word most frequently found in the speech is one held most dearly by every patriot: freedom. King invoked the word freedom 20 times, and freedom was not simply a theme in that speech; it was a theme throughout his life’s work.
Confined in a cell in the oppressively segregated South, Dr. King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail these prophetic words, “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation because the goal of America is freedom.” Like every conservative, King understood that freedom is at the very foundation of who we are as a country and a people. He went on in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to evoke our “birthright of freedom” and the yearning of a people to be free.
We Believe in the ‘Somebodiness’ of Every Life, No Matter Their Background
As conservatives, we believe in the value of every life and that every life has meaning. Martin Luther King, Jr. described it as believing in one’s “somebodiness.” In his “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech, Dr. King declared:
“Number one in your life’s blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count, always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.”
We Believe in Being The Best, Striving for Excellence
Dr. King continued in his “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech to talk about the importance of hard work and excellence. Conservatives believe as he did that success can only come through striving to be the best in all we do.
“[W]hen you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.”
We Fight for What You Believe In, No Matter the Consequences
The man who preached love and non-violence faced beatings, fire hoses, dogs, intimidation, contempt, derision, persecution from the FBI, and so much more. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed multiple times over more than a decade, nearly died as the result of a stabbing, and ultimately was cut down by the hate of an assassin when he was just 39 years of age.
Dr. King knew the consequences of standing for freedom and justice, and that the cost of doing so might very well be his life. Aware of his own mortality, he stood for what was right. King stood for the fulfillment of America’s promise inscribed in the earliest of its most sacred documents, the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Too often, conservatives and our movement have faced a biased press and power structures that seek to silence or punish us for standing up for what is right. Still, we stand, confident in those inalienable, God-given rights about which our Founders and Dr. King wrote and spoke so eloquently.
We Serve Others on This National Day of Service
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s timeless message of freedom, justice, equality, and excellence still speaks to all Americans and continues to be embraced by today’s Conservative movement. MLK Day is America’s only declared National Day of Service. There is nothing more quintessentially American than volunteering to serve our neighbors.
Just as Dr. King served and called upon the best in all of us to live up to our nation’s founding principles, I encourage every American patriot to find a special way to serve and bring out the best in each other on this holiday.