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MLK50: Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


April 4, 2018
Barack Obama hugging a young man with dreads infront of other men wearing suits, all brown skin

To honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s death, President Obama and Congressman John Lewis participated in a My Brother’s Keeper Alliance roundtable with students from Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington, D.C. Watch as President Obama, Congressman Lewis, and the students discuss Dr. King’s legacy and how his mission remains relevant in today’s world.

Four Black young men, dressed in dark suit jackets and brown khaki pants, are turned away from the camera, facing the Dr King monument in Washington, DC. The sky in the background is cloudy.
Barack Obama, dressed in a dark suit jacket, is turned away from the camera using his left hand to point to a painting on the wall in a hallway. Four young black men dressed in dark suit jackets and brown pants surround him on his right looking at the painting.
Barack Obama, dressed in a dark suit, points with his left hand to one of many photos sitting on a light colored coffee table. Across from him John Lewis, dressed in a blue suit, is using his right hand to point to the same photo. Six young Black men dressed in dark jackets, white shirts and brown pants surround the two men looking at the photos.
Barack Obama, dressed in a dark suit and blue dress shirt, sits in a chair alongside six young Black men and John Lewis who are also seated. In the background there is a clock above Barack Obama's head, a framed photo on the wall to the left and a large picture window behind him. The young men are dressed in dark suit jackets, white collared shirts and brown pants.

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About the Artifacts

President Obama and Congressman Lewis shared with the students some of the items that connect them to Dr. King, and what they’ve meant to them on the path toward progress. 

Official Program from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

A tan photo of the flyer of the march on Washington for jobs and freedom

Click here Opens in a new tab  to see the full program used during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that brought 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.

Norman Rockwell's "The Problem We All Live With"

A painting of ruby bridges a young deep neutral tone girl wearing a white dress with 4 officers with light neutral tones walking with her

Norman Rockwell’s famous painting depicts the moment in 1964 when six-year-old Ruby Bridges changed history simply by going to school. This work was displayed outside of the Oval Office during the summer of 2011. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery, AL

A black and white close up photo of the back of Martin Luther king Jr head with a crowd of people facing him

Dr. King speaks to about 25,000 people who marched from Selma to Montgomery to protest discriminatory practices on March 25, 1965.

Congressman Lewis's personal photo collection

The camera focuses on President Obama in a suit looking over black and white photos laying on a table. Surrounding him are men with skin tones ranging from medium to dark, also in business attire.

Congressman Lewis brought with him a few of the historic photos that line the walls of his office.

A black and white photo of a man with a deep skin tone is forced into a car as a crowd of other men with light skin tones watches

Congressman Lewis brought with him a few of the historic photos that line the walls of his office.

A picture of Martin Luther king jr and other men of color wearing suits sitting at a table in black and white with papers of the table in front of them

Congressman Lewis brought with him a few of the historic photos that line the walls of his office.

A Message from Congressman John Lewis

Fifty years ago today, I was with Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis when we heard that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed.

The leader of our movement for civil rights was gone, assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis.

And I believe something died in all of us that day. Something died in America.

But I've also always held the belief that what he left us — the way of hope, the way of peace, the way of love, a philosophy and discipline rooted in nonviolence — cannot be taken away. These things are eternal.

On Monday, I had the privilege of meeting with President Obama and a group of young men in Washington, D.C. for a My Brother's Keeper Alliance roundtable. Together, we commemorated the legacy of Dr. King, celebrated his life, and looked to the future.

I believe we can always do more to embody the teachings of Dr. King, not just on the anniversary of his death, but every day.

And young people are demonstrating that spirit to us. They are organizing and speaking up. They're marching. They're demanding more for themselves and their generation.

And so I had a message for the young folks I met with this week.

When I was growing up as a child in Alabama, I saw crosses that the Klan had put up. I saw signs that said "white" and "colored." There were places we couldn't go. The majority of African Americans could not participate in a democratic process in the South. We could not register to vote. And when I first came to Washington to go on the Freedom Rides in 1961, black people and white people couldn't be seated together on a Greyhound bus leaving this city.

When I got involved in the Civil Rights Movement as a young man, we'd sit in at restaurants. People would spit on us, put their cigarettes out on us, pour hot coffee down our backs. I was arrested 45 times in the 1960s. I was beaten, left bloody and unconscious.

But I never gave up. And today, you cannot give up.

That's what Dr. Martin Luther King can teach us today. His message is as important now as it was 50 years ago:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Because of King and the actions of so many others, we brought those signs down. We earned the right to sit in those restaurants. We earned the right to vote.

Now, all across the South and all across America, there are elected officials who are people of color. In the recent elections in Virginia and around the country, more people of color and more women were elected to positions of power. They are African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American. Our country is a much better place — a much different place — in spite of all the setbacks and interruptions of progress.

Dr. King taught us to be brave, to be courageous, to be bold. I don't know where America would be, where many of us of color would be, were it not for him.

His legacy was to speak up, stand up. When you see that something isn't right or fair, you have to do something — you have to get in the way. Get into good trouble.

The young men I met with this week give me so much hope for our future.