Recognized and celebrated in Maryland since 1974 and nationally since 1986, the birth of acclaimed civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has long been a reason to pause to contemplate the true meanings of both equality and justice. Earlier this week, the Maryland Senate continued its annual tradition of reflecting on the life of Dr. King with a presentation from Senator Mary Washington at the Maryland Senate King Memorial Address.
The life and legacy of Dr. King in meaningful to many and Senator Mary Washington is surely counted among them. While preparing to present the annual address, Washington shared that she came across a popular quotation attributed to Dr. King which states: “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”
Washington noted that these words seem as relevant today as they were in the last century. She stated: “I believe Dr. King is warning that, while it may feel tempting and satisfying that as we grow in influence, power and representation to do so, let’s not mistake calls for solidarity under a banner or flag with the dog whistle of prejudice and bigotry.”
Some 90 years since his birth and now over 50 years since his death, the importance of the work of Dr. King has seemingly never been more important. While great turmoil has often become the norm in societal discourse, the words and charge from Dr. King are more poignant than ever.
Dr. King encouraged the disenfranchised to maintain hope and to persevere in the face of discouragement and controversy. He famously taught us all that: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” He showed everyone that they can effectively advocate for their values in a way that creates ‘trouble’ but also exhibits dignity and grace.
Citing the popular hymns ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘Wade in the Water,’ and ‘Lift Every Voice” throughout her speech, Senator Washington stressed the achievements of those gone before and the work that remains ahead. She noted the work of Dr. King as someone who created righteous trouble and the importance of every individual to do the same. She presented a lasting charge that all can take to heart: “We are called not to simply lay a wreath every year or to repeat a quote, but to build a generation, lay new ground and be willing to be the shoulders on which others stand.”