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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

January 12, 2011|By Joe Puglia

Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever reads my columns here in the Valley Sun. So when I get e-mail from a reader asking me to respond to a specific topic, I comply. Got one the other day. It said, "Hey, Dr. Joe! Write something about Martin Luther King; his birthday is on January 15th."

I hit reply and answered, "OK!"

I'll tell you a story, just the way it happened. It was Aug. 28, 1963. My buddies and I were bicycling from the Bronx to the Catskill Mountains. We were going camping, trying to make the best of a week's suspension from working at Yankee Stadium for fighting with some fans.

We stopped at a roadside diner to see about if a radio was available. History would be made that day and I wanted to hear it.

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"Hey, mister, you got a radio I can borrow?"

"What for, kid?," he answered.

"I want to listen to Martin Luther King; he's speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C."

He asked, "Who's Martin Luther King?"

"He's the guy marching for civil rights," I said.

I remember everyone in the diner huddled around a transistor radio and listening to Dr. King deliver the most profound message ever to reverberate within the shadows of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

He was trying to collect on a promissory note signed by Thomas Jefferson. How could Jefferson, a mere mortal, create something as prophetic as the Declaration of Independence? The second paragraph begins with the perfect sentence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…."

Well, sort of equal, but not really. In 1776 he forgot about 500,000 slaves. The declaration was a philosophically perfect document written by an imperfect man. Jefferson was a genius tempered by the classics and a slave to the principles of 17th-century philosopher and thinker John Locke. He promised, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." But he couldn't deliver. His greatest achievement consisted of ideals.

He left America's greatest moral challenge to his successors. It would be the marchers led by Dr. King who would eventually set us free. If all men are created equal, then the rights of all men are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

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