As we gather today to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, it is altogether appropriate that we remember those words of Bobby Kennedy, who would himself fall victim to the assassin's bullet.
The "savageness of man" is all too evident in our world today. Less than a week ago another one of my former Congressional colleagues, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was shot at close range, and a Federal judge and five others were killed.
Dr. King was a Man of Peace. He lived in a world that resisted his call for social justice and often confronted his non-violence with violence. But history has shown that he was right in both his cause and his methods. Even though he was born into a world where equality did not prevail, that did not blind him to how things ought to be. He came with a message that the walls which separate men, should be torn down. He came preaching that men and women, regardless of color, are brothers and sisters. He called all people to embrace one another and to vote, work and worship alongside one another. He caused us to see that customs and traditions are no excuse for injustice and hatred.
He gave his people new hope, opening doors, to learning and employment. He gave men and women a reason to believe and to dream. He expanded the aspiration of future generations.
The America we know is a better place because one man followed his conscience to the farthest milepost. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, "When you drink the water, remember the man who dug the well." We live in a better America because of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ralph McGill, the long-serving publisher of the Atlanta Constitution and renowned editorial writer, once said of Dr. King that "in death he remains a goad for the nation's conscious." Goad is not a word that you hear very often. The dictionary defines it as something that urges or stimulates into action.
Let me give you a modern day example of a goad. Most of us have cell phones. Mine has my daily schedule on it. Fifteen minutes before an appointment it will remind me. I can set it on an audible signal that is loud, medium or normal, or it will vibrate only, or it can be placed on silent. Most of the time I set it on vibrate only. It is my goad.
If Dr. King is the goad for our nation's conscience, what is the goad for our conscience? When we see injustice or violence or hate what is going to stimulate our conscience and urge us to take action? Have we allowed our consciences both individually and collectively as a society to be set on "vibrate only" or even "silent"?
If we want to honor Dr. King, then we must work for those ideals for which he gave his life - human dignity, political equality and individual responsibility. His message of love, peace, equal justice and tolerance is universal. It is a message that deserves to be repeated through the ages.
For the past week, my wife Sandra and I have had the honor of living in the People's House, often referred to as the Governor's Mansion. I have discovered in its library a great collection of books by Georgia authors. I want to close with an excerpt from a book entitled Chins Up, with a subtitle Short Stories with Long Morals, written by Mildred Seydell of Atlanta, Georgia and published in 1939 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was about ten years old. Even if he did not read it as a young boy, he certainly affirmed its message in his life. The passage reads as follows: "Great men don't hate- they are too busy with their accomplishments. Hate flourishes in the breasts of those who have time to feel their wrongs. Hate is the weapon of the defeated, love that of the victor. No man ever won by hating, but many have conquered by loving."
Today, we remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - the man...his work...his legacy.
I am now pleased to present the family of the late Dr. King with this proclamation declaring Monday, January 17, 2011 as Martin Luther King Day in Georgia.
My friend and former colleague, Congressman John Lewis, in his book Walking With The Wind, recounts the events that day in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. He tells of Bobby Kennedy's extemporaneous speech to an unsuspecting crowd as he announced the shocking news. He recalls Kennedy saying, "Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world."