Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 91 on his birthday this year, and though decades have passed since his death, some local scholars and community leaders say this year’s MLK celebrations may have more significance than at any other time since his birthday became holiday more than 30 years ago.
MORE: FROM THE ARCHIVES: Newspaper pages tell the story of 1968 MLK assassination
The first federal King holiday was observed in 1986, nearly 20 years after he was killed in April 1968.
“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’” King said.
Here’s a look at what some local scholars and others had to say about MLK’s dream and what it means today:
J. Murray Murdoch of Cedarville University
Murdoch says that issues related to civil rights and the poor have been so politicized that King’s burden for love and unity have been lost in a maelstrom of name calling and hatred.
“Civil rights have become a weapon rather than a cause. The world desperately needs Dr. King’s message of love,” Murdoch said. “Dr. King frequently stated that before he was a civil rights leader, he was called to be a minister of the gospel. He saw civil rights as an opportunity to share love and equality on the biblical foundation that all men were created in the image of God and therefore deserve to be valued as individuals with dignity and love.”
Murdoch has been on the Cedarville faculty since 1965 and leads a civil rights bus trip each year to Atlanta and other areas.
Murdoch added that King often stated that the greatest weapon of the movement was love.
“He extended that love and concern beyond race as he followed biblical instructions and extended his burden to the poor,” Murdoch said.
MORE: Dayton area MLK events on schedule for January
Edward Marrinan, president of the Greene County Community Foundation
Marrinan said the King Center in Atlanta spells out exactly how relevant the slain civil rights leader’s message is today.
“Martin Luther King Day is not only for celebration and remembrance, but above all, a day of service,” Marrinan said. “Martin Luther King obviously devoted his life to the advancement of civil rights as well as service. He seemingly believed in a nation of freedom and justice, and as the benefit to charities and churches, he challenged all to help build a more perfect country through service.”
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg
Antani said race relations have improved in recent decades, but there’s more to do.
“Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy is still felt today. Over the past decades, thanks to his work, race relations and civil rights have vastly improved,” Antani said. “Racism has been vanquished from our laws. Now, we must vanquish it completely from our hearts. Certainly there is more work to be done to rid the scourge of racism from our nation, and in remembrance of Dr. King, that work should continue.”
Michael Carter, Sinclair College’s chief diversity officer
Carter sees King’s vision as stuck in the cross-hairs of politics and a lack of understanding of what it means to tackle issues such as racism and poverty.
“We are at a crossroads as a nation where we have to decide who we are,” Carter said. “We are living in an age of partisan politics where some would say the truth doesn’t matter. In order to get to where we need to go, we have to apply King’s principles. We have made progress, but the question is if we have made enough progress?”
State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum
“Martin Luther Jr. dared to dream of a day that all Americans would be treated equally with dignity and respect. Since his time we have made monumental progress in this journey, but we have not arrived,” Powell said. “Thankfully the promise of America is not that we ever arrive, but that we are striving to become a better nation, better communities, and better people. On this day meant to celebrate the ideals of justice and equality let us reaffirm our commitment to one another of everyday fighting to see one another as God sees us, equal in His eyes.”
Charles E. Jones, professor and the head of the Africana Studies Dept. at the University of Cincinnati
Jones cites the Trump presidency as giving legitimacy to white nationalism and an increase in racial tensions.
MORE: PHOTOS: Martin Luther King Jr.’s visits to the Dayton region
“Over the past three years or so, we have certainly seen an increase in racial tensions and racial hostilities in this country,” Jones said. “His treatment and comments of people from Haiti to the continent of Africa and his treatment of Hispanic people with negative rhetoric has given rise to white nationalism.”
He said it will help “during this time of remembrance and reflection and call to action that people need to translate King’s dream into a reality. While we have made some progress, we know that there has always been a gap between what King professed and what is going on in the United States.”
MORE: A look back at Martin Luther King Jr.’s visits to Dayton
Derrick Foward, Dayton Unit NAACP president
Foward reflected on how the Dayton area suffered from the May 2019 Indiana KKK group’s rally held downtown. He believes the fires of racism have been fanned by the president and called racism a national epidemic highlighted by not only the local Klan rally, but the lingering effects of the Charlottesville, Virginia, violence.
“ When you think about what King stood for, peace, tranquility, equality, unification and peace - we know that his dream is not being realized,” Foward said. “If it was, then we would not be out here marching every year.”
He added that it is important to also address the issue of black-on-black crime during this King holiday.
“We have to stop picking up weapons and killing one another and take responsibility for our own actions,” Foward said.
MORE: Dayton rallies against KKK: ‘This ugly chapter is over,’ but work to be done
Streets to Be Closed Monday for MLK March:
Following are the scheduled street closures (provided by the Dayton Police Department) for the Martin Luther King Day March on Monday. The march kicks off from 1323 W. Third St. at approximately 10 a.m. and ends at the Dayton Convention Center around 10:45 a.m. or shortly after.
The entire primary march route will be closed to vehicular traffic. Streets will be closed as required and directed by the parade commander.
The following streets will be closed to all vehicular traffic:
• West Third Street from Paul Laurence Dunbar Street to Edwin C. Moses Blvd.
• Broadway from Second Street to Fourth Street
• Edwin C. Moses Boulevard from Washington to Third Street
• Robert Drive from Third Street to Fifth Street
• Fourth Street from Wilkinson to Robert Drive
• Perry Street from Third Street to Fifth Street
• Wilkinson Street from Fourth Street to Fifth Street
• Ludlow Street from Fourth Street to Fifth Street
• South Main Street from Fourth Street to Fifth Street
• Fifth Street from Edwin C. Moses Boulevard to Jefferson Street
Due to the length of the route, intersecting streets will be closed on an as-needed basis to facilitate vehicular traffic while providing safety for the participants.