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Recalling a civil rights legend

On Monday, honor King’s life and legacy

Published: Friday, Jan. 17, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Government offices, schools, and many private-sector businesses in Illinois and across the country will take Monday off in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

While this is an honorable gesture to pay tribute to a trailblazer of the civil rights movement, I want to encourage everyone to take a moment on Monday to reflect on the immeasurable contributions and philosophy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – a great man and visionary who stood for equality, rejected discrimination and segregation, and who did so in a nonviolent fashion.

I first met King when I was a student at Alabama State College – now Alabama State University – in Montgomery, Ala., in the early 1950s. Coming from Chicago to Montgomery brought challenges and frustrations because of the racial climate in the South.

African-Americans were prohibited from drinking at certain water fountains and using certain washrooms, weren’t allowed to choose which seat on a bus to sit on, and were banned from eating at many restaurants. African-American students faced the inequality of a segregated school system.

During my time at Alabama State College, I attended a small church in northern Montgomery where King served as pastor.

King the man, as well as his philosophy of equality and charitable behavior, made such an impression on me as a college student and has served as a prominent influence in my life to this day.

King demonstrated how one man with a dream could impact society and improve the quality of life for untold millions. 

I established the Jesse White Tumblers 54 years ago as a way to give back to the community and help those in need of guidance.

I became a teacher and a public servant in large part to help others.

The influence of King on my life cannot be overstated. In fact, I cannot imagine having become the first African-American to hold the office of Illinois secretary of state without King’s influence on me and on greater society.

I espouse several philosophies in life that emulate King. Never discriminate or dislike someone because of race, creed or color. Do something good for someone every day. And when you become successful in life, give back to those less fortunate.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I urge everyone to reflect on the impact that King has had on their lives, and how each of us can strive to better promote fairness, compassion and nonviolence toward others.  

Note to readers: Jesse White has been Illinois secretary of state since 1999.

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