MLK Day Legacy: Harris Wofford

By | September 4, 2019


I think the most–
moving memory is the first time my wife met–
Martin and Coretta King. He invited us to hear him
at a talk in Baltimore, and drive him back with
Coretta– from Baltimore to Washington, and then to
have some talking together. And on the way back, he and
I were strategizing about what would Martin
Luther King do– if he’s going to be a
leader that’s bringing Gandhi and his ideas
into America. And we heard in
the back seat, Coretta saying, “You know, I
have a nightmare that at the end of the road that
Martin has chosen, he’s going to be killed. And that nightmare
keeps coming back.” And he turned
around and said, “Cory, I’ve told you to stop
dreaming that nightmare. That’s not the point. I didn’t choose this. They asked me to chair
the Montgomery bus boycott. They came and asked
me, and I said yes.” And then he hummed a
spiritual that was something like, and the lord
came by and asked. And my soul said yes. And of course, we– we all
know that most people serve and take action
because somebody asked. And this is a day when
we’re asking people to do what Martin Luther King
would do to make this holiday the pursuit of
the public happiness of governing ourselves. For– for a long
time, people fought to get the King Holiday. And I was one of
those calling for that. And it finally got
achieved nearly 25 years ago. And years have passed. And over the
years, I had grown, but it was sermons,
talks, meetings, lunches. And one– one
day, I said to myself, this is wrong. If Martin Luther
King were here, he’d say that’s not
what I want on my day. It should be a day
on, not a day off. It should be a day when we
try to fulfill the goals that– Martin Luther King
gave his life for. I teamed up with John
Lewis in the house and many Republican and Democratic
colleagues of mine in the Senate, and– and
he in the House. And it got enacted as a– as
a– as statement by Congress that this should be
a day of service, a day on, not a day off. I was on
Martin Luther King Day in snow at a
Habitat for Humanity, or a house build
in Philadelphia. And the young
African-American who was a volunteer that day in the
service corps– was painting or scraping the– the walls
that we were working on. And I said,
“How did you turn to join this service corps?” He had been a gang leader. I was told he’d
dropped out of school. He was on the
way to disaster. And now, he was
one of their stars. And he said, “Well, I
thought it would be a different gang. I might not die at the end.” Sort of joshed. Then he turned around a
little– a few minutes later, and he said, “The
real reason I’m in this corps and doing
this is all my life, people would
come to do good. They’d come into the
project where I lived and– to help me. And I got tired of people
doing good against me. This is the first time in my
life anyone ever asked me to do something good
for my community.” And the light bulb
went on, and I said, “That– that’s close
to everything that Martin Luther
King– King stood for.”

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