By the President of the United States of America
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." On the 63rd anniversary of the birth of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we honor an American who took a brave stand for justice and equality, even though his message of racial harmony met with stubborn, sometimes brutal, opposition.
Martin Luther King told us that, in spite of the cruel reality of segregation in the United States, "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 . . . ." He believed that for this creed to be truly fulfilled, his children would "one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Throughout his years as leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. King adhered to an ethic of nonviolence. Time and again, he urged his listeners: "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct ourselves on the high plane of dignity and discipline." King knew that it would take great patience, courage, and fortitude to wage a peaceful struggle in the face of sometime bitter resistance, but he also knew that acting in the spirit of nonviolence could make virtue out of suffering. "The nonviolent approach . . . first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it," he explained. "It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had." Dr. King urged his listeners to rely on the force of moral truth.
Recognizing the redemptive power of love and sacrifice, King labored to lead the civil rights movement in a manner consistent with its noble goals. "You can't reach good ends through evil means," he explained, "because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree." Dr. King aspired not only to change laws but also to plant in the hearts and minds of the American people a new sense of brotherhood.
King's approach was more than a rejection of bitterness and violence; it was a resounding affirmation of the dignity and potential of each individual. Sharing the faith that had been nurtured in him from youth, he declared that the key to "peace on earth and good will toward men is the . . . affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God." That message is worth repeating today.
During the past few decades, our Nation has made tremendous strides toward ensuring equal opportunity for all. The Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 marked only the beginning of many important advances for minority men and women -- advances that continue to this day. However, while we have overcome the painful legacy of legal segregation in this country, we know that many challenges remain. At a time when too many lives are being claimed by violence in our cities, by drug abuse, or by unfulfilled potential; at a time when too many young Americans lack confidence in themselves and in the future, we do well to reflect, once again, on Martin Luther King's timeless message -- a message that underscores the importance of faith, family self-respect, and respect for others.
In his last public speech, given the night before he fell victim to the violence he so fervently opposed, Martin Luther King enjoined his listeners, "let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America a better nation . . . ." Recalling those words and his dream for America, let us make this occasion a time of renewed commitment to our familes and to our fellowman.
By Public Law 98-144, the third Monday in January of each year has been designated as a legal public holiday.
Now, Therefore, I, George Bush, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Monday, January 20, 1992, as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this seventeenth day of January, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-two, and the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and sixteenth.