ASWWU logo
Walla Walla, WA
Friday, December 8, 2023

Beyond Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

February 9, 2023
Austin Price

The Message of MLK Jr. and Why it’s Crucial to Remember Him with Intentionality

Austin Price

Excellence in thought and generosity in service are two of the four core themes at Walla Walla University. If students adopt these two themes in their own lives, they have a responsibility to learn about Martin Luther King Jr. He is a character much more complex and more important than solely the speeches he gave and the day we celebrate him on. Upon researching King, students must additionally be compelled to do something with their knowledge; to give something of themselves away for the cause they’ve educated themselves on.  

One impulse extremely difficult to control is acting with violence when you know something is wrong. The concept of standing up against injustice in a nonviolent way is central to King's argument. To give a voice to those who unquestionably are prejudiced against and treated badly, and who don’t have enough energy to stand up. It’s a responsibility we must take on, and one that King's legacy tells us to take each year. [1] 

Marshall Frady, a prominent journalist of the civil rights movement, described King’s late teens and his beginning involvement with faith. Frady wrote, “He managed to contrive for himself an intellectually suitable peace with the Baptist Church by calculating that he would be a ‘rational’ minister, whose sermons would be ‘a respectable force for ideas, even social protest.’” [2]  

At age 20, around the same age as the average college student, King started his nonviolent crusade against social inequalities and injustices. [3] He stood up for something that took immense courage; he stood up to the sheer animosity towards African Americans. Importantly, he didn’t just stand up for racism, but all kinds of inequalities in society; a comprehensive fight against inequality.  

And readers today can only remember him on a single day of the year? This is absurd. Not only must we remember him but realize that we too will have to stand up for what is right at some point in their lives, so we must choose to live up to King’s legacy by continually standing up for justice and equality.  

As one of the most ambitious presidents regarding civil rights, John F. Kennedy said during his civil rights address: 

I hope every American regardless of where he lives will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds, it was founded on the principle that all men are created equal and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle: to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free.” [4] 

President Kennedy spoke with an emphasis from the Declaration of Independence. Later, King would share the same repeated emphasis. 

In King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” the first mention of “the dream” calls back upon the Declaration of Independence, appealing to the idea of equality that has been misrepresented from America’s birth. He spoke with serious hope: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” [5] 

President Kennedy, in his inauguration speech on January 20, 1961, remarked, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” [6]  

The phrase “bear any burden” is directed at the entire nation. It’s directed at me, the writer, and you, the reader. The phrase that is widely considered one of the most memorable things Kennedy would ever say comes from the ending of his inaugural speech. The idea that still electrifies people today when heard: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America can do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” [7] 

Kennedy’s sentiment is important regarding civil responsibilities, and King extends this by showing people what this help looks like regarding nonviolent protest.  

King specifically answers this question of how to stand up continually for equality in a speech following unrest from segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, where he said, “We will meet the forces of hate with the power of love […] We must say to our white brothers all over the South, we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering […] Bomb our homes and we will still love you […] We will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.” [8]  

Similarly, he remarked before the Lincoln Memorial,We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” [9] 

So, don’t just remember Martin Luther King Jr., but, like him, take a stand against injustices and inequalities today. Embrace the message and develop your purpose to stand up for a cause bigger than yourself. And while a student here at WWU, remember the four core values: excellence in thought, generosity in service, beauty in expression, and faith in God. [10] 



  1. Walla Walla University. (n.d.). Our mission.  
  2. Frady, Marshall. (2006). Martin Luther King, Jr. A Life. Penguin Books. 
  3. Fishman, Rachel. (2017). Perception vs. reality: The typical college student. New  
  4. C-span. (2014). President John F. Kennedy's Civil Rights Address. [Video]. YouTube.  
  5. King, Martin Luther Jr. (August 28, 1963). I Have a Dream [Speech Transcript].  NPR. (January 14, 2022)  
  6. The Kennedy Center. (2021.) President John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address. [Video]. Youtube.  
  7. Ibid. 
  8. Frady, Marshall. (2006). Martin Luther King, Jr. A Life. Penguin Books 
  9. King, Martin Luther Jr. (August 28, 1963). I Have a Dream [Speech Transcript]. NPR. (January 14, 2022) 
  10. Walla Walla University. (n.d.). Our mission.  
menuchevron-upchevron-downmenu-circlecross-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram