The nation celebrates the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday today, and this weekend some local people reflected on what progress has been made on the civil rights leader's dream of equality for everyone.
"I think civil rights have improved overall, but there are still some issues, mostly in larger inner-city areas," said Matt Gerhart, 41 of Marietta.
"But I think it's more of a social status issue than a strictly racial issue now," he said, noting life continues to be a daily struggle for people from poorer neighborhoods.
"Still, I do believe there's been a big improvement since the days of Martin Luther King.
Marietta College student and football quarterback John McKelvey, 18, from Houston, Texas, agreed.
"There's been some big progress made in equal rights, although you sometimes still see some unequality in isolated areas," he said. "In the south some racism still exists, but it's more of a personal issue with some people."
About Martin Luther King Day
- Legislation was signed in 1983 creating a federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose actual birthday is Jan. 15.
- Americans first observed Martin Luther King Day in 1986.
- In 1994 Congress also designated the holiday as a national day of service, honoring Dr. King's admonition that "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"
- Each third Monday in January the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service-a "day on, not a day off"-to serve others.
McKelvey said there are plenty of opportunities today for people who want to follow their dreams.
"If you work hard and push to reach your goals you'll get there," he said. "And if people see you really want to succeed they'll help you along."
King spoke at Marietta College in March 1967, one year before he was assassinated at a motel in Memphis, Tenn. Newspaper reports at the time said there was standing room only as King addressed a capacity crowd in Marietta.
Marietta native and Councilman Harley Noland, 60. said he was unable to attend the event, but noted King's impact on civil rights was definitely felt here.
"I can remember my dad saying the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) held a rally in front of the National Guard Armory one time, and I remember the Klan once marched in one of our local parades," he said. "Civil rights has come a long way in our own lifetime. Since then we've seen the development of movements like Affirmative Action and much more racial diversification on college campuses."
He said King's messages of non-violence and equality for everyone are engraved at the civil rights leader's monument in Washington, D.C.
"I've seen the monument, and there's a real sense of peace in that location," Noland added. "His statue faces across the reflecting pool directly toward the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial."
Kuwait native Mohammed Ali, 19, also a student at Marietta College, said King's influence is evident in U.S. civil rights.
"Speaking as an outsider I think America has made huge progress in civil rights," he said. "And the equality people have here is amazing. But there are still a few people in this country who seem, at least on a personal level, to have a problem relating to other races."
A pastor and humanitarian, as well as a respected civil rights leader, King would have celebrated his 85th birthday on Jan. 15. In 1983 the U.S. Congress designated the third Monday of January as a federal holiday to mark the King's birthday.
King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.