Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on the Anniversary of the Birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15, 1983

Thank you all for being here. And let me especially thank the Harlem Boys' Choir. From what we've just heard, I think that you fellows could show the famous Vienna Boys Choir a thing or two.

But welcome, all of .you, to the White House on this special day. Earlier today on my radio broadcast I spoke of Dr. King's character and contributions. Now let me speak a little more personally about the man who tumbled the wall of racism in our country. Though Dr. King and I may not have exactly had identical political philosophies, we did share a deep belief in freedom and justice under God.

Freedom is not something to be secured in any one moment of time. We must struggle to preserve it every day. And freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.

History shows that Dr. King's approach achieved great results in a comparatively short time, which was exactly what America needed. Let me read you part of what he wrote from a jail cell:

"When you suddenly find your tongue twisted as you seek to explain to your 6-year-old daughter why she can't go to a public amusement park that's just been advertised on television; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you're humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading 'white' and 'colored,' then you can understand why we find it difficult to wait."

Martin Luther King, Jr., burned with the gospel of freedom, and that flame in his heart lit the way for millions. What he accomplished-not just for black Americans, but for all Americans—he lifted a heavy burden from this country. As surely as black Americans were scarred by the yoke of slavery , America was scarred by injustice. Many Americans didn't fully realize how heavy America's burden was until it was lifted. Dr. King did that for us, all of us.

Abraham Lincoln freed the black man. In many ways, Dr. King freed the white man. How did he accomplish this tremendous feat? Where others—white and black-preached hatred, he taught the principles of love and nonviolence. We can be so thankful that Dr. King raised his mighty eloquence for love and hope rather than for hostility and bitterness. He took the tension he found in our nation, a tension of injustice, and channeled it for the good of America and all her people.

Throughout my life, and especially my political life, I've spoken a great deal about the nature and spirit of America. I believe the vast majority of Americans share that spirit with Dr. King. He said, "The goal of America is freedom." He said, "The American people are infected with democratic ideals." And there he found hope. He said he believed there were great vaults of opportunity in this nation. He genuinely believed in the potential of America.

Someone has remarked, the comfort of having a friend may be taken away but not that of having had a friend. Well, America may have lost the comfort and courage of Dr. King's presence, but we've not really lost him. Every time a black woman casts a ballot, Martin King is there. Every time a black man is hired for a good job, Dr. King is there. Every time a black child receives a sound education, Dr. King is there. Every time a black person is elected to public office, Dr. King is there. Every time black and white Americans work side by side for a better future, Dr. King is there. He's with us, and with us very much today.

Martin Luther King used to speak of his abiding faith in America and the future of mankind. He rejected what is for what ought to be, and he dedicated his life to that dream. Much of his dream has become reality, but much is still to be achieved. Dr. King's faith will continue to be a beacon of hope for us all as we continue to serve together to make America the nation that we knew' it could become.

So, thank you for this very special day, for being with us as we gather here to remember a great American—a man of vision, a man of peace. Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 5:45 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. The Harlem Boys' Choir entertained the President and his quests prior to his remarks.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on the Anniversary of the Birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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