Welcoming remarks at the 2009 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Program in the Rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol

January 14, 2009

Thank you. It is a great honor to be here with you to celebrate the life and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tonight, we stand on the eve of what would have been Dr. King’s 80th birthday.

His was a life that reminds us that change is possible. By honoring his life across our nation, we are also reminded that our great country is on a journey of change – a journey with many significant milestones along the way – including the great day we will see in Washington D.C. next week.

At a time when our country stood at a crossroads on the issue of race, Dr. King was willing to stand up and be a leader for change – and what an able leader he was.

For me, that’s the enduring legacy of Dr. King – he stood up for what he knew was right when his nation desperately needed leadership. And he realized all along that it wouldn’t be easy.

In one of his most powerful speeches, Dr. King said we must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove. Moving forward, he said, would require a tough mind and a tender heart. Only then could we be strong enough to meet life’s challenges.

We saw that combination of toughness and tenderness throughout Dr. King’s life – he was relentless in his pursuit of equality and justice. Through march after march and speech after speech, with faith and hope, Dr. King never allowed himself to give up.

His dedication reminds us that real leadership takes more than vision. Making Dr. King’s dream a reality takes courage – a trait Dr. King showed time and time again.

We must teach our children about Dr. King so that they understand their past and how far we’ve come. And we must live his legacy – toughness and tenderness – so that they will inherit a better future.

I’d like to close with a quote from a noted historian who specialized in Black history – Dr. John Henrik Clarke. Dr. Clarke described history this way:

“History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells people where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.”

Making sure we remember what Dr. King accomplished is a vital way to show us what we must be.

Let us celebrate Dr. King’s ongoing legacy by continuing to stand up for what is right, no matter what the cost.

Thank you.