The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial opened in August 2011 after 27 years in the making. The brainchild of King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, the memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., will pay tribute to King's work and vision. Ideally, the 30-foot-sculpture will not only honor King’s contributions to social justice and nonviolence but will also inspire others to live out his dream. King envisioned a world where racial segregation no longer existed as well as where war and poverty were eradicated. While his dream has yet to be realized, there are a number of ways to live out his legacy.
Education is Key
Forty-three years have passed since King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. For people yet to be born in 1968, that may seem like ancient history. Of course, it isn’t. The parents and grandparents of America’s younger generations were living when King and hundreds of other activists risked their lives to fight for civil rights. Young people can remember the work of these activists by educating themselves on the civil rights movement. Documentaries, books and photography related to the era are great tools to familiarize oneself with the movement’s mission and highlights.
Those who can make the trip should visit the site of King’s assassination, now the National Civil Rights Museum, to see firsthand the sacrifices movement leaders made in the struggle for racial equality. Learning about the movement is one way that young adults and children in the United States can keep King’s legacy alive. Those familiar with the fight for civil rights can spread its principles to others.
Reach Out to Civil Rights Groups
Many groups that helped usher in the civil rights movement—the National Urban League, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—still exist today. Find out how you can help these groups and contribute to the civil rights legacy by visiting their websites, phoning them and emailing them. Perhaps they’re seeking people to provide financial assistance, attend an upcoming conference or launch a chapter of the group in their area. If you live near the headquarters of such organizations, you’re in a unique position to actually help with fundraising efforts, mass mailings, administrative tasks and more as a volunteer.
Beyond Civil Rights
If you’re familiar with King’s activism, you know that he wasn’t just concerned about civil rights but about workers’ rights, poverty and the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, to name a few. You can help maintain King’s vision by serving the poor, fighting for equality in the workplace and promoting an agenda of nonviolence. Identify ways you can advocate for these issues on a local, national and global scale. Contact homeless agencies in your area, get involved with a labor union or volunteer for organizations that promote conflict resolution.
King wasn’t just a civil rights leader but a philanthropist. When he won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, he decided to donate the $54,000 award money to further the causes of the civil rights movement instead of reserve it for himself and his family. Fittingly, funding for the $120 million memorial built in his honor has largely trickled in through philanthropic outreach. When the memorial opened, fundraising covered all but $6 million of its cost. Donations poured in from celebrities such as Carlos Santana and George Lucas as well as a variety of corporations.
Because the cost of the King memorial is exorbitant, some wonder if the money for it would have been better spent helping organizations that further King’s cause. But the memorial exists precisely to further his cause—to provide a dazzling way for the public to remember King, his mission and principles. The public may make memorial donations for as little as $5. Learn more by visiting the memorial’s official website.