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Premier: ‘Dr King an inspiration to us all’

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Fierce campaigner: Dr Martin Luther King Jr delivers his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963

Bermuda’s people should be inspired by Dr Martin Luther King Jr to face the Island’s problems together, according to Premier Michael Dunkley.

Dr King’s official birthday commemoration takes place today — a day that has been declared a public holiday in the United States.

Recounting the iconic civil rights leader’s legacy, the Premier said Dr King believed that our differences need not divide us, and added that the icon’s message of “a higher unity to reach for” remained prevalent.

Dr King was famous for advocating peaceful protest to achieve equality, particularly for African Americans.

He gave his most famous speech, which ranks as one of the greatest and most important in modern history, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, where he told a quarter of a million people: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Mr Dunkley said: “Dr King’s legacy expands far beyond the geographic boundaries of his native United States of America. His influence in life and almost 47 years after his death is remarkable.

“Although we do not observe his birthday and life’s work with a public holiday here in Bermuda, it is important that we are reminded of the principles and strength of the man and the movement he led.

“Legacy is a complex thing for any international figure and Dr King is no different. When we think of him our minds turn to his famous speech that has become known as ‘I have a dream’. The well-known excerpt from that day of speeches in Washington in 1963 sounded a challenge to all to build a better, more just society. It is inspiring even today.

“However, Dr King should also be remembered as a fierce anti-war campaigner, a man committed to economic equality and who championed the causes of social and economic justice in all its forms. For example, the March on Washington was for jobs and freedom, designed to highlight not just the racial inequalities in America but the manifest injustice of what the organisers termed ‘fundamental economic inequality along racial lines’.”

He said that Dr King’s most lasting legacy was perhaps his courage.

“His voice of dissent on the Vietnam War helped to crystallise the moral argument that was needed to change the thinking of his countrymen,” he said. “His courage in the face of adversity and conviction when confronted with accusations of disloyalty reminds us that we, too, have a responsibility to our communities to speak up and speak out.

“As Dr King said, ‘the time is always right to do what is right’.

“Throughout his life, Dr King spoke of unity and joined with people of various backgrounds, races and creeds to further the message of social justice through non-violence. He warned us, ‘we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools’.

“In Bermuda we can unite around various causes as we work for solutions to the challenges facing us. We can have disagreements, but, as Dr King counselled, our differing views and differences need not divide us; and that there is a higher unity to reach for.

“In a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in April 1967, Dr King delivered a clarion call in opposition to the Vietnam War.”

Mr Dunkley added: “In his closing he spoke of ‘a true revolution of values’, challenging us to greater compassion. He said, ‘A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies’.

“This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighbourly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men.

“As we remember Dr King, his life and legacy, and as we observe the celebration of his birthday with our American friends, let us embrace his overriding message of unconditional love for all peoples.”

Premier Michael Dunkley (Photo by Akil Simmons)