'We All Have a Stake in Each Other' – Obama Remembers a King

4-04-08, 4:51 pm

In a brief but stirring commemorative speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana, April 4, on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 40th anniversary of his assassination, Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama recalled the civil rights leader's courage, his eloquence, and his leadership ability.

'Through his faith, his courage, and his wisdom,' Obama said, 'Dr. Martin Luther King moved an entire nation.'

'He preached the gospel of brotherhood and equality and justice as the cause for which he lived and for which he died forty years ago today,' Obama said in calling for a moment of silence.

Obama remembered some of the key moments of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Rides, and the March on Washington, and praised the men and women who stood for justice. 'Those were times when ordinary men and women, straight-backed, clear-eyed, challenged what they knew was wrong and helped perfect our union,' he said.

Obama refused to neglect, as others often do, what it was that Dr. King was doing in Memphis, Tennessee the day he was murdered. 'He was standing up for striking sanitation workers,' Obama said. Mostly African Americans, the sanitation workers had for years suffered under disrespect and abuse, racially motivated unequal treatment, poor pay, and dangerous work conditions.

'But in 1968 those workers decided they had had enough,' Obama stated. But their stand was met with violence by police. 'Their vigils were met with handcuffs,' Obama said, 'their protests met with mace.' In the end, however, they won.

'It was a struggle for economic justice, for the opportunity that should be available for people of all races and from all walks of life,' he continued. 'Dr. King understood that the struggle for economic justice and the struggle for racial justice were really one. That each was a part of a larger struggle for freedom, for dignity, for humanity.'

On the eve of his death, Dr. King gave a sermon that 'would prove eerily prophetic.' He had been through the struggles when men and women had stood together 'around a common purpose.' He had 'seen the promised land,' and while he felt that he would not make it there himself, he believed we would.

Obama emphasized that Dr. King knew that 'no matter what the color of our skin, no matter how much money we had, no matter whether we are a sanitation worker or a United States Senator, we all have a stake in one another. We are our brother's keeper. We are our sister's keeper.'

'Either we go up together, or we go down together,' Obama quoted King as saying.

Obama added that King's murder 'left a wound on the soul of our nation that has not yet fully healed.'

He praised the courage and steadfastness of Corretta Scott King following her husband's death.

Obama took the opportunity in speaking about King's struggle for economic justice, to talk about the growing economic inequality in the country today, the recession, and the use of racism and petty politics as wedges to drive us apart and distract us from coming together to solve our problems.

Obama added that we can live up to Dr. King's call for unity. 'The great need of this hour is much the same as it was when Dr. King delivered his sermon in Memphis,' Obama said. 'That while we each have a different past, we all share the same hopes for the future: that we will have a good job that pays a decent wage; that we'll have affordable health care when we get sick; that we'll be able to send our kids to college; that after a lifetime of hard work, well be able to retire with security,' he stated.

Obama concluded by recalling that Dr. King had often said that the 'arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.'

'But here's the thing,' Obama said, 'it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own way puts our hand on that arc, and we bend it toward justice. Because we organize, we mobilize, we march, we vote, we parent, we're active in our community, we're active in our schools.'

Let's bend that arc, he concluded.

--Reach Joel Wendland at