Dr. King’s legacy lives with Barack Obama

January 14, 2009

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

When my grandchildren ask about the most memorable day of my life — other than my marriage to my lovely wife April, the birth of my children and being elected your International president — I suspect my answer will be, “It was sitting as a special guest of President Barack Obama at his inauguration on Jan. 20, as I intend to do.”

President Obama embodies the words “change” and “hope,” and we are desperately in need of all three during these troubling times following eight years of horribly failed presidential leadership.

In celebrating the soon-to-start Obama presidency, I also think back to April 4, 1968 — a month shy of my 18th birthday in Memphis, Tenn., and the morning paper reporting on Dr. Martin Luther King’s , “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” speech in support of 1,300 striking Memphis sanitation workers, who were protesting horrendous working conditions and low pay.

And that evening, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis.

Those events had significant influence on my decision to become a committed trade unionist.

And what a coincidence that the day before the first African-American is to be inaugurated as America’s 44th president, we will celebrate the birthday of Dr. King.

Who would have imagined — even after President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — that America one day would elect an African-American president?

Who would have imagined during race riots in 1908 in Springfield, Ill. — civil unrest that sparked formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) — that one day an African-American would begin a successful run for the presidency in that same city?

Who would have imagined in Memphis in 1968 that Dr. King’s Jan. 19 birthday would become a national holiday; and, in 2009, be followed the next day by the inauguration of Barack Obama?

I wish I could read my favorite passage of Dr. King’s, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” speech aloud at every union hall in America to highlight our perennial struggle for equitable wages, benefits and working conditions:

“Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation … It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity.”

Dr. King was a leader with vision and courage whose message was one of equality, inclusiveness, diversity and unity.

In Barack Obama we hear a similar message of vision, courage, equality, inclusiveness, diversity and unity.

Borrowing from President-elect Obama’s historic election night message, “Change has come to America … If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy” then the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States is living proof.

God bless the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

God bless the election of Barack Obama to be President of the United States.

God bless America.