Leon Bibb pays tribute to Martin Luther King paving the way for a better and stronger America

Memory of Martin Luther King celebrated by newsman

CLEVELAND - I am a child of the Civil Rights Movement.

Were it not for that movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, I would not be in a position I hold as a journalist in a major-market network-affiliated television news operation. Without a doubt,

Dr. King and the entire movement helped me and tens of millions of others achieve a better life in a nation which had always spoken of freedom, but had for generations fallen far short. Martin Luther King, whose birthday is celebrated as a national holiday in the U.S., became the nation's conscious during the 1950s and 1960s.

For those who were not yet born, the films and photographs or the horrible times of racial segregation may seem as if they were long ago in a far-distant land. However, for those of us who remember those times, it seems as if they were only yesterday.

America has changed significantly since Dec. 1, 1955, when blacks in Montgomery, Ala., decided to boycott the city's public bus system because of the laws requiring blacks to be segregated in the back of the bus or to stand if there was not enough room for white passengers.

A 26-year-old Baptist minister was called to lead the boycott. Martin Luther King was reluctant at first to take the leadership role, feeling he was too young to lead the thousands of blacks who would boycott. He felt there were others better qualified than he to lead.

However, the black community insisted that the young minister holding the doctorate degree quickly assumed the leadership role, becoming the spokesman. For one year, blacks refused to ride on the Montgomery city buses. While empty buses ran the city routes in Montgomery, the blacks walked or car-pooled  to wherever they needed to go. Eventually, the loss of dollars forced Montgomery to change its policy.

During that year of the boycott, the American television networks and newspapers covered the story. Television, radio newspapers and news magazines told the story of the young Martin Luther King and those who followed his lead. King became known throughout the nation and throughout the world. The rest of the nation was forced to deal with the fact much of the nation lived in a way totally opposite from what was called for in the nation's Constitution, which spoke of freedom and rights of humankind.

From that bus boycott victory, Dr. King became the prominent and most vocal voice of what had become known as the Civil Rights Movement. During the rest of the 1950s and into the 1960s, it was his voice which was heard around the world. He was the man with the dream of equality for all people in America. When news clips from his historic 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech are played on television, my mind flashes back to that time when I saw it live on television in the home in which I was raised by my parents.

"He's preaching now," said my father that summer day as Dr. King moved from his scripted speech and began to speak extemporaneously. His words bellowed forth in a poetic rhythm, but were words of strength and truth. A gathering of hundreds of thousands of people stood before him at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. An audience of tens of millions of people throughout the nation watched on television. 

Our country and our world had begun to change. Were it not for King and what began as a boycott in Montgomery, our nation would not look anything as it looks today. However, it was not just a single man. It was an entire movement which brought about change. They are changes which are still unfolding.

Even though Dr. King was felled by an assassin's bullet at the age of 39  in 1968, his voice and his words still ring loudly. They are not only played on television and radio, they resonate in the hearts of  generations of people who struggled to be part of the American fabric in every way. I am one of those who is a product of the Movement. Had it not been for it and Martin Luther King, I would not be the news anchorman I have become. Many millions of blacks, and Asian, and Native Americans, and women, and scores of other ethnic groups would not enjoy the liberties they currently enjoy.

Martin Luther King was a strong voice of the people. He was this conscious of this nation, pushing America to become what it had always said it was, but had always fallen far short of what was written in its Constitution. We are a better nation because of King. We are a stronger nation because of King. His influence and wisdom have gone far beyond the borders of this nation.

So we celebrate the man and the man's legacy with a national holiday. In my home and on my desk at work are photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King. I celebrate what he was about and I applaud what the people who helped bring about the changes we have seen. We are not yet where we should be, but we are far from where we were during the days of legal segregation in this country.

When we celebrate the memory of the Dreamer, we remind ourselves of the importance of freedom for all people, regardless of their skin color, national origin, gender, sexual preference, or religion. Dr. King reminded an entire nation of what it should be about.

The way has been rough and bloodied. It was not easy to get to this point, but fights for freedom are rarely easy. Still, the battle was necessary. And the battle continues. Each Martin Luther King Junior Day, I take time to reflect on how far we have come as a people — an American people. As well, I am continually aware of how far it is to go.

"I may not get there with you to the promised land," preached Martin Luther King in a speech the night before he was killed. But he said he was confident "we as a people" will get there. He said from the mountaintop, he had seen the promised land. 

As we celebrate the birth of the great man, we are all moving toward the promised land.

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