Observed Monday with the closure of city and county offices, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be an occasion to consider how the civil rights leader's life changed America for the better, say two Nevadans who have extensively studied his life.
Dr. King, a Baptist minister who was 39 when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, was deeply influenced by the example of Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), whose birthplace at Porbandar, Gujarat State, India, King visited in 1959, said Nevada R-5 High School Athletic Director Kevin McKinley.
"I have been to the King Center in Atlanta, where he is buried, and I admire his history and contributions," said McKinley, who teaches a section about King to his three junior and senior sociology classes each year around this time.
"I talk a lot about the influence Gandhi and the non-violent resistance tactics he used against the British had on the American civil rights movement. I'm conservative by nature and I'm not sure I would agree with all Dr. King's politics if he were still alive because he spoke against the Vietnam War very actively toward the end of his life."
McKinley, 5 years old when King was assassinated outside Room 306 at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., said Thursday that the leader did not advocate only for the betterment of black people but also for poor people of all races. "He was engaged in the Poor People's Campaign when he died and was about to make his second march on Washington," said McKinley, having taken his family to see the National Civil Rights Museum at that hotel six years ago.
"He was an essentially obscure preacher before he began assisting Rosa Parks in the Montgomery, Ala., Bus Boycott, which lasted about a year. Once they got the buses desegregated, many white Americans, especially in the South, viewed him very negatively as kind of a troublemaker.
"The death threats started in 1955 and there was not a day when he awoke in the morning and did not realize it could be his last. Knowing how it would probably turn out in the end was devotion to a cause beyond what most people would have."
Asked what King's influence was on the U.S., McKinley said, "It wouldn't have been the same country without him.
"He is the true definition of a patriot and a martyr. He has been as influential in death as he was in life. The same is true with President Jack Kennedy (1917-'63). If they had lived into old age, it's hard to imagine what impact they would have had on American culture and politics."
One of McKinley's favorite King quotations that he paraphrased is,:Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks, is it politic? Vanity asks, is it popular? But conscience asks, is it right? There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but one must take it because it is right."
The Rev. Erica Sigauke, director of spiritual life and campus diversity at Cottey College, is a native of Zimbabwe who grew up "reading stories, books and articles about Dr. King as a man who inspired a whole nation to open up for positive change, love, caring, forgiveness, respect and peace."
The Rev. Sigauke will direct a special chapel service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Cottey College Chapel on the south side of Austin Boulevard between the Robertson and Reeves residence halls. Parking will be in the lot immediately south of Robertson Hall, accessible off Tower Street, she said.
Titled "Let's Celebrate the Dream," the non-denominational service will be conducted by student members of the college's Spiritual Life Committee.
"I didn't read much history growing up in our capitol city of Harare, but I remember a story about how he had been leading people and working with them in communities for growth in terms of understanding to bring change in a positive way and to make the world a better place to live," Sigauke said Friday. "I'm reading a book of his sermons about love and opening up to our neighbors to bring divine understanding. Like Gandhi, he wanted people to understand how it is to love and be inclusive with a non-violent attitude.
"He played a part in the history of the nation and the whole world," said Sigauke, a United Methodist Church minister who earned degrees at Africa University, University of Minnesota and Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.
"It is important for us to be open-minded in our sharing. I am blessed to be in a country where there is freedom of religion and everybody is respected and honored. I have experienced a lot of open and welcoming spirit."