As we remember the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we ought to take a moment to reflect on the countless individuals that made his legacy possible and continue it today.
King’s legacy was one that will continue for generations to come, inspiring people from all over the world to fight for justice in nonviolent, compelling ways. We have a day every year to remember the hero King was and is to so many as well as the ways in which he moved the United States toward inclusion and fairness.
Less often, though, we consider all the other people in the civil rights movement who made this progress possible. Traveling through the Mississippi Delta this weekend highlighted how many ordinary people made King’s work possible.
For every speech King made, there were people to organize the logistics of the event. For every trip he made, there were people providing him transportation and places to stay. At every turn, many provided King support and kindness that undoubtedly sustained him in his mission.
Though these details may not be prominent in histories of the civil rights icon, they were nonetheless crucial to his work. Would we still be reciting his famous dream if there had been no one there to record or listen to it?
Those who worked for justice without ever receiving recognition should be remembered along with King.
After all, his life’s work was grounded in these individuals’ experiences of injustice. They stood up to injustice in every way they were able: some cooking, some driving and some passing along their gratitude. Others continued to form small rebellions against the racism and bigotry they encountered, though few are as well-remembered as King.
They did the right thing, in small and large ways, in the face of serious consequences. The movement was larger than just a few leaders – everyday people who made the movement successful.
It’s easy to become complacent toward fighting for justice and to feel that we cannot make a change without leading marches with great speeches in Washington. But the truth is that movements that change the world consist of everyday people making simple choices to do what is right.
People who helped others, marched for justice and voted incompetent politicians out of office created the changes of the civil rights movement. As we look to the great legacy of King, let us not forget that there were many people just like you and me that made the change he spoke of possible.
The injustices from ages past still linger and must be addressed today. You, by performing acts large and small, can effect the necessary change.
Daniel Payne is a sophomore journalism major from Collierville, Tennessee.